Junta's silence is as good as a lie

opinion April 24, 2018 01:00

Against all the evidence, the generals continue to pretend there are no rights violations in Thailand



The military junta really has to be smarter when it reacts to criticism from overseas about the state of human rights in Thailand. Instead, once again, the government spokesperson and senior military officials, responding to the latest report from the US State Department, attempted to fob off plain fact as a “perception” that not everyone shares. There have indeed been rights violations in Thailand in the past year, no matter what the junta claims. Nor is it acceptable to try to excuse these violations as a simple matter of enforcing the law.

What must be made clear at the outset is that many of the laws enacted by the junta-led government are unjust because they limit civil rights. The United States took note that many junta decrees enacted following the 2014 coup to restrain warring ideologues remained in effect in 2017, long after hostilities had ended. Order No 3/2015, for example, replaced martial law in March of that year but gave the government sweeping powers to curb “acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability”. The junta defines “national peace and stability” as it wishes. It’s a catchall phrase used to justify the detention of citizens even when there is no legal merit for doing so. 

The US report quoted Thailand’s Department of Corrections as saying that, as of last August, 135 people had been detained or imprisoned on lese majeste charges, under laws that ostensibly protect the monarchy. Among the cases cited most by foreign governments and international organisations is that of Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, known as Pai Dao Din, who was detained in 2016 for sharing a BBC article online. He alone was arrested among the estimated 2,000 other Thais users of social media who shared or liked the same article. If the junta truly trusts in the law, why can’t it properly explain the legality behind this case? 

The State Department report listed unsolved disappearances, such as that of Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, a prominent Karen rights activist missing since 2014, and Withipong “Koh Tee” Kodthammakul, who is associated with the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship.

 “At year’s end,” the report said, “the government had not taken action on the 2011 request for a visit by the UN working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances.”

It also challenged the repression of freedom of assembly. From the day it seized power, the junta has prohibited political gatherings of five or more people, a decree invoked under Article 44 of the interim constitution and extended under the 2017 constitution. It disrupted at least 13 public events through July last year, more than 157 in all since the 2014 coup.

The US report noted the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand complaint that police had ordered it to cancel a panel discussion on the removal of an historical marker commemorating the 1932 revolution. The junta has offered no acceptable explanation why police also blocked public gatherings in Bangkok meant to commemorate the revolution’s 85th anniversary in June last year.

At least we are not alone in our concern. Agencies around the world are observing and recording the junta’s every move and its every failure to clarify, justify, amend and improve.

The international community will not let Thailand get away with this forever. In the meantime, offering no good answer is the same as lying.