A worrying sign

opinion June 06, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

2,268 Viewed

If the junta believes that banning anti-coup protesters' three-finger salute will aid the cause of peace, it is badly mistaken

If you don’t mind, it don’t matter,” as the old saying goes.
    The military authorities should take this message to heart and rethink their decision to clamp down on citizens expressing their silent defiance of the coup with the three-finger salute, borrowed, some say, from the Hollywood film “The Hunger Games”. 
And if they came to their senses, they would rethink their entire approach to critics in the aftermath of the May 22 bloodless coup, which has put Thailand back more or less to where it was in 2006, at the time of the previous military take-over.
The three-finger symbol of opposition to the coup quickly drew the ire of the military, which has threatened to arrest those protesters who ignore the warning to “lower their arms”. 
“At this point we are monitoring the movement,” Colonel Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, a spokesman for the ruling junta, told the Associated Press. “If it is an obvious form of resistance, then we have to control it so it doesn’t cause any disorder.”
Since the imposition of martial law and the coup d’etat two days later, the junta has taken measures to clamp down on political gatherings and made considerable headway in silencing critics, blocking websites and shutting down television stations affiliated with the warring political parties and groups. 
A planned protest in Bangkok against the coup last Sunday, for example, was met with nearly 6,000 security officials. 
The three-finger sign means different things to different people, but essentially it is a form of protest against what the military has done. 
What’s absurd about this whole thing is that the Army believes it can force people to keep their mouths shut.
If anything, such extreme censorship of free expression stands to make the situation worse. The military administration needs to realise that people are not machines and that each and every one of us has our own opinion and feelings about the ongoing political crisis. 
By trying to impose uniformity on thoughts and feelings, the junta is digging its own grave. 
If sub-national conflicts around the world tell us anything, it is that clamping down on criticism does not serve the interest of peace, especially when the dissenting voices reflect the sentiment of a significant number of people. 
Yes, the military is setting up a new agency as part of a peace process – the Reconciliation Centre for Reforms (RCR). But, if the centre is to have any chance of success, it will have to allow the participants freedom of expression.
The junta says the centre, which will have branches throughout the country, will be a platform for people of all political affiliations to come together and iron out their differences. 
As part of the process, those from opposing sides must be permitted to vent their frustrations. If, instead, authorities choose to use coercion and censorship in a bid to “force” an agreement, the deep-rooted division between enemies will remain and violent conflict will inevitably resurface.  
If the military chooses to obsess over hand gestures, then what chance of success does the RCR have in creating an atmosphere conducive to peace?