Less media freedom than ever in Thailand three years after coup

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the Thai junta’s crackdown on news and information since the military coup three years ago yesterday and urges the international community to take a firmer line with the regime, which has stepped up online censorship and prosecutions of media outlets in recent months.
 
Yesterday was the third anniversary of the coup that brought the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to power. Its leader, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, promised to restores democratic principles but the number of violations of fundamental freedoms continues to grow by the day.
 
RSF reiterates its appeal to the Thai government to stop persecuting providers of news and information critical of the authorities.
 
In particular, RSF asks the Thai authorities to:
• Repeal laws and articles that hamper the free flow of information and encourage self-censorship, including the criminal defamation law, the Computer Crimes Act and article 112 of the criminal code.
•  Free the journalists Somyot Prueksakasemsuk and Somsak Pakdeedech and free all other citizen-journalists, bloggers and cyber-activists who have been imprisoned for lèse-majesté or on other charges linked to their right to inform and express criticism freely.
• Stop censoring media outlets, including news websites.
• Stop the harassment of news and information providers who have had to flee the country or who reside abroad.
• Put a stop to the smear campaigns and intimidation campaigns waged by political groups against certain foreign journalists and news organizations.
 
“Thailand’s rulers need to understand that the stability and development they so often cite as their goal for their country requires freedom of information and expression for all Thai citizens,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
 
“Without real freedom of the press and information, all of the Prayut government’s national reconciliation projects are destined to fail. Only acceptance of political pluralism and the free flow of information, no matter how disagreeable it may be to hear, will enable Thailand to emerge from the spiral of political crises and the associated democratic decline.”
 
At the same time, RSF asks the international community to:
• Condemn Prayut’s dictatorial government and demand a return to democracy and guarantees for political rights and civil liberties.
• Condemn the Thai government’s violations of media freedom and freedom of information and call firmly for an end to the persecution and censorship of news and information providers.
• Make international cooperation and assistance conditional on a substantial improvement in respect for freedom of information.
• Help Thailand’s media organisations (TJA, TBJA, NBCT and NPC) to be independent and support civil society organizations that defend freedom of expression and information in Thailand such as Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, Media Inside Out, iLaw, Thai Netizen Network and the FCCT.

Three years of democratic decline

 
King Rama IX’s death in October 2016 has made no difference to the use of lèse- majesté charges under article 112 of the criminal code as a weapon of mass deterrence for journalists, bloggers, and online activists.
 
In April, the government banned any online contact or interaction with three prominent critics who had to flee the country several years ago: the journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall and university academics Somsak Jeamteerasakul and Pavin Chachavalpongpun.
 
Reinforcement of the already feared Computer Crimes Act in 2016 gave the authorities even more surveillance and censorship powers. Harassment of foreign journalists has also increased in the past three years. In February, BBC correspondent Jonathan Head was charged with criminal defamation and violating the Computer Crimes Act in connection with his coverage of real estate fraud.
 
Defamation prosecutions are often brought against investigative journalists who cover the environment. Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS) and four of its employees are accused of defaming a mining company in 2015 and 2016. Another company brought a defamation action against the journalist Pratch Rujivanarom in March over a report about water pollution.
 
Student activist Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa was arrested on 2 December 2016 for sharing an unflattering BBC profile of the new king on Facebook. Last week Jatupat was awarded South Korea’s Gwanju Prize for Human Rights.

Prayut Chan-o- cha: press freedom predator

 
The vision of the media expressed by the self-proclaimed prime minister, Prayut Chan-ocha, speaks volumes about their plight. He said journalists should “play a major role in supporting the government's affairs, practically creating the understanding of government's policies to the public, and reduce the conflicts in the society.”
 
The range of subjects that are liable to be censored has grown steadily since the junta took over, while harassment of journalists, media outlets, bloggers, artists and intellectuals has become systematic. This has been reflected in the closure of more than 400 websites since last October. The prime minister meanwhile ensures that anyone criticizing him or his government is silenced.
 
A year and a half after the coup, RSF published a report on the alarming situation in Thailand that was entitled “Media hounded by junta since 2014 coup.” Thailand is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.