The Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand, which was set up by the last government in 2010 after the worst political violence in decades, urged the country to delay trials and temporarily release political defendants.
It also said the use of controversial legislation banning criticism of the monarchy has been “directly related to political conflict” since before the coup.
In its first report to Thailand’s new leadership, which is allied to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed by the army five years ago, the commission said the government should be “highly cautious” about causing further political splits.
It criticised the use of legislation, including an emergency decree imposed last year during clashes between the army and anti-government “Red Shirt” demonstrators — in which more than 90 people died.
The commission accused “involved parties” of “violation of criminal law” and said using criminal prosecution to solve the country’s political problems “is not suitable”.
It urged delays to political prosecutions by “not bringing the cases to court” and also said the government should temporarily release defendants while assessing whether accusations are “unduly harsh”.
Reparations to those affected by violent disorder in recent years, including the April and May 2010 rallies, were also recommended.
Compensation should be distinct “because it represents the state responsibility for lacking adequate and effective mechanisms to take the political conflict under control”.
The nine-member commission, led by respected legal academic and former attorney general Kanit Nanakorn, touched on the country’s extremely sensitive lese majeste laws, which govern discussion of the revered royal family.
Kanit’s appointment by the last government, which presided over the Red Shirt crackdown, was criticised as a potential “whitewash” by the Puea Thai Party that is now in power led by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra.
But Thitinan Pongsudhirak, of Chulalongkorn University, said the new government would now struggle to implement all the recommendations.
“They will not want to be seen as trying to subvert the monarchy,” he said.
Under Thai legislation, anybody convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.
Academics have noted a sharp increase of new royal insult cases in recent years and rights groups have expressed concern that the law was used to suppress freedom of expression under the last government, considered close to elites that backed the 2006 coup against Thaksin.
Commissioners said they were concerned that an apparent increase in lese majeste prosecutions “could have political impact”.
The report said the government should “consider reviewing” whether to prosecute cases which “expand” the interpretation of the law too broadly “such as the accusation and the propaganda on the conspiracy to ‘overthrow the monarchy’”.
Discussion of the royal family is a long-standing taboo in Thailand.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 83, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, has been in hospital since September 2009.
Arnon Nampa, a lawyer who works for Red Shirts accused with lese majeste, said the commission was “very brave” to tackle the issue.
“The government should act on this quickly. This is a chance for them to release people without being criticised for helping their supporters,” he said.