Journalists slam article 116 crackdown.
THE JUNTA’S swift enforcement of the Criminal Code’s Article 116 on sedition will not only curb freedom of expression but also hinder the military government’s stated effort to develop Thai politics, panellists at a Thai Journalists Association (TJA) forum said yesterday.
Article 116 carries a penalty of up to seven years in jail for those who advocate force to change national laws or the government, instigate conflict or encourage people to violate laws.
Since the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) came to power in 2014, some 24 cases involving 66 people have been filed for alleged violations under the article. Almost 20 cases involve accusations of criticising the junta-controlled NCPO, while the rest involved alleged criticism of the junta-drafted charter and the monarchy.
Although the article has long been in effect, the NCPO quickly broadened its application to apply to trivial matters, said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. These included the posting of online photos related to the Pheu Thai Party’s distribution of red bowls to legal observers and student activists during last year’s referendum campaign.
The article has also been applied against people who post online content that differs from the junta’s opinions, Sunai said.
For example, Pravit Rojanaphruk, a journalist with Khaosod English Rojanaphruk, and Watana Muangsook, a former Pheu Thai minister, were charged with violating the article after posting Facebook updates questioning the justice process in the junta era.
These actions have been noticed by the international community, which have expressed concern, Sunai said, given that the article could be interpreted broadly and punish defendants harshly.
The NCPO should also reverse its orders seeking “cooperation” from media outlets to not distribute information deemed to be critical of national security matters, the junta or the monarchy, he said.
The TJA’s advisor Chakrit Permpoon compared the enforcement of Article 116 to the pressures people faced during the Cold War era, a time when people were guarded in what they said in case it could be misinterpreted as favouring communism.
The way that Article 116 was being applied by the junta had turned it into a political tool, serving those in power, he said. This ran contrary to the right to freedom of expression and press freedom guaranteed in Thailand’s constitution.
Wirat Kalayasiri, head of the Democrat Party’s legal team, agreed it would be hard for prosecutors to prove that those accused of breaking the law instigated actual conflict. Still, the article was being used by the junta authority to suppress what they see as biased media, Wirat said.
Seri Suwanpanon, a member of justice process reform committee appointed by the government, said that in practice the Article was merely being used to maintain national security in the Kingdom, which has suffered a long decade of political conflict.
“Ultimately, I believe that the accused won’t be punished but may be irked,” Seri said. “Still, the Article should be enacted cautiously and reasonably without infringing people’s rights in line with a democratic regime.”