Thai civil society and the general public face an uphill struggle to voice their opinions after the coup of 2014. The lack of forum and freedom prevents open criticism against the military-led administration, known as the National Council of Peace and Order.
Freedom in the World 2015, the latest edition of its annual report on political rights and civil liberties in 195 countries around the globe, highlights the worrying trend of violations in Thailand.
Thailand’s political rights rating declined from 4 to 6, its civil liberties rating declined from 4 to 5, and its status declined from Partly Free to Not Free due to the May military coup, whose leaders abolished the 2007 constitution and imposed severe restrictions on speech and assembly.
Thailand saw biggest declines in freedom, leading Libya, South Sudan & Egypt: 2015 Freedom House report pic.twitter.com/EvxDN2pLLe
— Suluck Fai Lamubol (@FaiSuluck) February 2, 2015
Three recent cases exemplify the junta's hostility toward free expression.
Military-backed government detains a land rights activist
It is common for the junta to summon individuals whom they perceive as dissenters or those requiring an “attitude adjustment” for having different views. In a recent incident, the authorities summoned and detained for three days a southern land rights activist, Peerat Bunrit, as part of an “attitude adjustment” after he led a group of local farmers to fight for their land rights. Mr. Bunrit is a leader of the Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand in Surat Thani Province.
As expressed by Veera Prateepchaikul in the Bangkok Post, the summons for “attitude adjustments” issued by the junta do little to improve national reconciliation and instead widen the gap between conflicting political opponents. The face-to-face talks with military officials are “used to silence or neutralise opponents,” he wrote.
”This is the sad political reality, the deep mutual distrust between the two opposing camps, which makes reconciliation an uphill task,” Prateepchaikul said.
Opposition leader receives at-home ‘attitude adjustment’
The junta views political dissent as counter-productive to the vision of coup leader and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha. A former Pheu Thai Member of Parliament was recently summoned to 1st Region Army Headquarters in Bangkok after he denounced the January impeachment of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
However, the army sent an officer to meet him at his house.
Soldiers show up at civil society seminar on Internet freedom
Last Sunday, a civil society group conducted a seminar in Bangkok to share concerns and issues about the drafting of the country's cybercrime laws. Organisers and the participants were surprised at the sudden appearance of soldiers. There was even a soldier who volunteered himself as a speaker in the panel.
By imposing severe limitations on expression and preventing active participation in the decision-making process, the junta is taking several steps back from national reconciliation and reforms. Silencing the people in the name of betterment of the country would merely create an unstable future for the “land of smiles” that has lost its humor.