Junta never tires of tough-guy games

opinion September 12, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

National security is ‘under threat’ yet again and a single mum with T-shirts gets separated from her kids



The military junta has no justification for detaining a citizen just because she had in her possession T-shirts bearing an insignia that it claims to belong to some obscure insurrectionist group. That’s how Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan tried on Monday to explain the move, saying the red-and-white emblem was the “flag” of the Organisation for Thai Federation, an organisation he accused of plotting against national security.

It was further pointed out that the junta has the authority to arrest and detain people for up to seven days. People can also be interrogated without access to a lawyer under the same decree, which represents a mockery of democratic principles. Four years after the coup, the generals still seem bent on shredding Thailand’s international reputation as a progressive, welcoming country by flexing their authoritarian muscles.

The 30-year-old mother of two, who works as a motorbike-taxi driver, was taken from her home last Thursday and detained at a military base. The arresting soldiers confiscated several T-shirts with the emblem the junta deems a threat. There has been no indication whether she will be charged with any offence. Lawyers and rights advocates believe she could be accused of sedition under Article 116 of the Penal Code, but it is difficult to fathom how possession of T-shirts would justify that. The Army, with its half a million troops, would have to prove intent to provoke social unrest or destabilise the military government by means of an obscure logo on everyday items of clothing.

We as yet have no evidence, let alone proof, that the emblem is connected to the Federation of Thai States, a group whose name has never in history appeared on any list of separatist movements. Associates of the detained woman insist she has never been involved with any political movement. Rather, she’s a single mum struggling to feed three mouths. Her frightened sons, ages nine and 14, were finally able to visit her at the Army base on Monday, four days after her arrest. The speculation is that she ordered a quantity of the T-shirts to re-sell for extra income.

Rights lawyers say three other individuals in possession of similar T-shirts have previously been charged with instigating unrest and were detained at Bangkok Remand Prison. One was later freed on bail. It is unbelievable that the junta continues to use illegitimate tactics on the eve of a promised election aimed at restoring democracy. Post-coup pledges to reform society, including the police force and the justice system, long ago fell by the wayside. 

Instead, we’ve had sustained instability as a means to perpetuate the military’s grip on power. There has been a steady drip of warnings from the generals that this group or that was poised to cause chaos. These are fiction, concocted to keep citizens fearful of imminent danger, but in the meantime people are being arrested for foolish reasons. Every time pressure has mounted on the junta to schedule an election, people have been jailed or summoned for “attitude adjustment”. 

The Army has had ample time to get the country back to the “normal” state we enjoyed before all the political violence. The hope now is that an elected civilian government will restore democratic rule of law, dispensing with all trappings of dictatorship. For now, the military should show some compassion and free the woman with the T-shirts.