Thailand’s army detained veteran journalist and Junta critic Pravit Rojanapruk last Sunday for allegedly posting information online that “disturbed peace and order” in the country.
Pravit is a senior reporter for The Nation, a leading English language daily in Thailand. He is also a known critic of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the civilian government established by the army which took power through a coup in May 2014.
This is the second time that Pravit has been held incommunicado by the army. With his first “invitation” to visit an army camp, in June 2014, he spent seven days in detention.
On Twitter, Pravit informed the public that an army officer visited his house last Saturday:
At 12.35 two military officers visited my resident while I was away. Junta have my # so they can always call. Not running away. #Thailand
— Pravit Rojanaphruk (@PravitR) September 12, 2015
Before his detention, Pravit tweeted the need to defend freedom in the country:
— Pravit Rojanaphruk (@PravitR) September 13, 2015
Junta spokesman Col. Winthai Suvaree confirmed that Pravit is being questioned for “presentation of information that does not comply with our measures for maintaining peace and order.” He added:
Right now, he is being processed by security officers. How long it’s going to take depends on the result of the interrogation and his cooperation.
Peace, order and ‘attitude adjustments’
The army’s term for this process is “attitude adjustment” which aims to persuade the accused to understand the role the army plays in preserving stability in society. In another news report, the army insisted that Pravit is being detained not as a journalist but as an individual who posted misleading information about the government on his Facebook page.
Pravit's detention marks yet another instance in which the current government has sought to limit public criticism by journalists and human rights workers in the wake of the 2014 coup. In April of 2015, legislators passed a national security law that appoints “peace and order maintenance officers” from the ranks of the military who possess sweeping powers to defend the security of the state. These army personnel can search homes, summon and arrest troublemakers, confiscate properties, and detain suspected individuals in special premises for up to seven days even without judicial authority. The law also directly affects free speech. Article 5 reads:
Peacekeeping Officers are empowered to issue orders prohibiting the propagation of any item of news or the sale or distribution of any book or publication or material likely to cause public alarm or which contains false information likely to cause public misunderstanding to the detriment of national security or public order. (Unofficial translation by iLaw, the Freedom of Expression Documentation Center)
A coalition of local media associations publicly condemned the law, calling it a “greater threat to press freedom and freedom of expression” than Martial Law, which was imposed from May 2014 – April 2015.
Local media groups call Pravit's detention ‘unlawful’
Pravit’s friends and free speech advocates are urgently demanding his release. The Nation’s Editor-in-Chief Thepchai Yong submitted a letter to the NCPO:
There is no justification whatsoever for his detention. If the military believes he has done something wrong, there are normal legal channels to deal with it.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights noted that aside from Pravit, two other critics of the junta were arrested by the army. The group said this practice is unlawful:
Stop summoning a person to report themselves and stop detaining a person simply because of their political criticisms or their criticisms of the performance of the government. It is an act of persecution against political dissents and an unlawful act indeed.
The Thai Journalists Association reminded the government that its actions are already undermining the people’s rights:
As a journalist, Pravit Rojanaphruk, who is being detained, must have examined and criticised the work of the government. Keeping him in detention without any formal charge or clarification was against the principles of freedom of the press and the people's basic rights according to the Article 4 of the Interim Constitution.
Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand also supports the call for Pravit’s release:
The detention of journalists or anyone else for the peaceful expression of their views violates Thailand's obligations under international human rights law. We urge the NCPO to release Pravit Rojanapruk immediately. His place of detention should also be immediately made public.
And Reporters Without Borders warned that Pravit’s detention could lead to media self-censorship:
If the National Council for Peace and Order thinks he has committed a crime, it must refer the matter to the judicial authorities, who will announce what he is charged with and not hold him incommunicado without a valid reason. This is the behaviour of a dictatorship that is trying to intimidate independent journalists and encourage media self-censorship.