by Cong B. Corrales
MEDIA AND HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS have expressed deepening concern over what they called the “outright suppression of freedom of expression and press freedom” in Thailand after the Thai military seized power last May 22.
The Thai military has rounded up protesters, dissenters, journalists, and anyone it claims to be “undermining security” in the country. The army declared the coup d’ etat on May 22, two days after it declared martial law citing a continuing political crisis in Thailand.
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), a regional network of media organizations advocating press freedom, reported that a senior reporter of the newspaper The Nation had been detained by the army.
SEAPA said Pravit Rojanaphruk was arrested by the army and “subsequently detained and taken to an undisclosed location.”
“We urge that he be released immediately. Pravit should not be targeted for doing his job as a reporter and for expressing his views against the martial law and the coup,” SEAPA demanded.
Several hundred people have already been summoned by the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council, the de facto ruling group, to report to the army. Many of them are known critics of the coup, or politicians and academics.
“The junta has issued very broadly-defined orders and cast a wide net of summons to detain people. These include those who peacefully express their views differently from the military junta and the coup. SEAPA believes no one should be detained for expressing of their opinion,” the SEAPA statement reads.
SEAPA also reported a clampdown on media agencies, with more than a dozen satellite, cable TV, and community radio stations closed by the army.
Other TV stations are now under strict monitoring by soldiers “and prohibited from news and content that foment violence, insult the monarchy, and criticize the coup and the NPOMC,” SEAPA said in a media alert. The PCIJ is a founding member of SEAPA.
Read the entire SEAPA statement here.
Likewise, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called on the Thai junta to “immediately release the journalists and dissidents it currently has in detainment.”
“As it is such a crucial time of democratic change in Thailand, it is more important than ever that citizens have access to information. We are appalled that the military are using restrictions on the media as a weapon to stifle freedom of expression during this current period of martial law,” IFJ Asia Pacific acting director Jane Worthington said in a statement.
The IFJ is the world’s largest organization of journalists. It was first established in 1926. The federation represents around 600,000 journalists in more than 100 countries.
In the Philippines, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) expressed solidarity with the media workers in Thailand, as it plans to launch an indignation picket in front of the Thailand Embassy in Manila. The NUJP is an accredited member organization of IFJ.
“Our concern stems not only from our historic experience with martial rule, when the curtailment of freedom of information preceded the wholesale trampling of all other basic rights and freedoms. Inhibiting free expression can never serve the cause of restoring democracy or even order,” NUJP’s solidarity statement reads.
The NUJP statement reiterates that “only free discourse, no matter how strident it may seem, will arm a people with the knowledge essential for them to make informed choices about their future.”
In an emailed statement over the weekend, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) joined the media groups in the region in calling for sobriety and warning that the recent developments in Thailand are a “free fall” towards holding the entire country “hostage to its whims.”
“Military rule has thrown Thailand’s rights situation into a free fall. “The army is using draconian martial law powers to detain politicians, activists, and journalists, to censor media, and to ban all public gatherings. This rolling crackdown needs to come to an end immediately,” said HRW Asia director Brad Adams in a statement.
Adams added that the Thai military is so desperate in ridding political dissent that it is “holding the entire country hostage to their whims.”
“The Thai army needs to recognize that the government should be determined by the ballot, not the bullet,” he said.
“Armed soldiers arrested the deputy director of Thai PBS TV, Wanchai Tantiwittayapitak, and held him for several hours after his station defied the order by broadcasting its regular programs through Internet feeds. Even though those TV stations are now allowed to resume their regular programs, they have to strictly follow the junta’s order not to air any information critical of the military intervention,” the HRW reports.
SEAPA observes that the martial law authority has seemingly focused on clamping down media and free expression.
“The junta must immediately return civil liberties to the Thai people, restore freedom of the press, and take concrete steps to return power to civilian authority based on a popular mandate,” the SEAPA statement reads.