Sunday, September 23, 2007

Via Prachatai: One Year After the Coup: Restrictions on Freedoms Remain


20 September 2007

One Year After the Coup: Restrictions on Freedoms Remain

(Bangkok) The Campaign for Popular Media Reform (CPMR) and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) join together to express concern over the deprivation of freedoms in Thailand: freedom of expression, association and assembly, that have been occurring since the military coup one year ago today.

On 19 September 2006, the coup d'état was staged - ousting Prime Minister Thaksin Shinnawatra and installing the interim military government. Prime Minister Thaksin was in New York participating in the 61st United Nations General Assembly when tanks rolled into Bangkok, imposing Martial Law immediately. General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the leader of the coup imposed restriction on freedom of expression, association and assembly in a motion to counter any attempts against the coup.

In the five-page briefer, Thailand: One Year After the Military Coup and its Effects on the Three Freedoms, jointly released by CPMR and FORUM-ASIA today, it highlights that within the duration of a one year period, freedom of expression in Thailand has plummeted from partly-free in 2006 to non-free in 2007, as documented by the Freedom House, the US based democracy watchdog. Under the military government, Thailand's ranking on press freedom was downgraded from 107 to 122 in 2007 as was documented by the Reporters Without Borders. Threats to television stations and community radios by the military government during the course of the year were a major cause to this downgraded ranking. We are also concerned over the recent enactment of the Computer Crime Act, which will affect the freedoms of internet users. According to Freedom Against Censorship Thailand, the partner of CPMR, more than 15,000 websites, mostly political, have been closed down by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.

In the case of freedom of association and assembly, there have been cases when these rights for trade unions, student groups, and local farmer groups (namely the Assembly of the Poor) and members of anti-coup groups, have been suppressed through threats and intimidation. Currently, 35 of the country's 76 provinces remain under Martial Law, giving unlimited power to the military to harass and intimidate opposition. The introduction of the Internal Security Act has also raised similar concerns as the act will legitimise human rights violations based on the notion of "national security".

As a member of the United Nations, CPMR and FORUM-ASIA urge the Thai government to respect the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly as highlighted in International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Thailand has acceded to the ICCPR and enshrined these rights in the new constitution. We also urge the government to accept that the three freedoms are a crucial part in the democratic development and good governance of the country.

Supinya Klangnarong Anselmo Lee

Secretary General, CPMR Executive Director, FORUM-ASIA

Thailand: One Year After the Military Coup and its Effects on the Three Freedoms

  1. Introduction

19 September 2007 will mark the one year anniversary of the military coup d'état which took place on 19 September 2006 ousting former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinnawatra. During the past years there have been numerous political developments, seen to many as the downfall of Thai democracy. Some key developments include Thai politics mirroring the 1970s when the military and its bureaucracies play a key role in deciding the policies of the country.

There have been numerous monitoring reports done by journalists on the situation of human rights before the military coup such as the case of the War on Drugs (2003), Tak Bai incident (2004), extra-judicial killings and disappearance cases, however, there has not been a report examining the human rights violations after the 2006 coup.

The purposes of this report is to look into the human rights violations particularly on the three freedoms: expression, association, and assembly, referred by human rights defenders (HRDs) as an integral part of civil and political rights, as the "first generation rights".1 The report will highlight the key violations of these freedoms by benchmarking the three freedoms to the international human rights instruments, namely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand is the party to. In conclusion, the report will present recommendations to related actors to maintain compliance to international obligations to protect the three freedoms.

The methodology of this report is based on daily monitoring of newspaper, journals, and electronic materials both in Thai and English during the period of September 2006 to September 2007, information is also gathered from direct investigations and interviews.

  1. International Standards and Obligations

Thailand as a member of the United Nations (UN) has acceded to two particular documents the UDHR and ICCPR. This section is a guideline to rights that the Thai government has agreed to provide its citizens.

Under the UDHR2, the three basic freedoms are protected under:

  • Article 19 - "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers".

  • Article 20 (1) - "Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association".

  • Article 20 (2) - "No one may be compelled to belong to an association".

Under the ICCPR3, the three basic freedoms are protected under:

  • Article 19 (1) - "Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference".

  • Article 19 (2) - "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information, and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice".

  • Article 21 - "The right to peaceful assembly shall be recognised".

  • Article 22 (1) - "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade union for the protection of his interest".

  1. Freedom of Expression

After the military coup, the 1914 Martial Law (enacted in 2457 Buddhist Era [BE]) was imposed in the country giving total command to the military. Despite the martial law being gradually lifted in some provinces, currently (September 2007), 35 out of 76 provinces are still being ruled under martial law.

In July 2007, the government came out declaring its plan to pass the draft Internal Security Act (ISA), which will give the power to the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC), a military-run organisation known for its notorious abuses during the 1970s. This act could bring toward greater violations on the three basic rights.4

Thailand's ranking of civil and political rights according to Freedom House, a non-profit organisation monitoring press freedom moves from partly-free (PF) in 2006 to not-free (NF) in 2007.

Similarly for the recent report of the Reporters without Borders (RSF), the press freedom report 2006, released at the end of the year, Thailand plummeted from the ranking of 107 in 2005 to 122 in 2007.5 It is accurately to say that the freedom of expressions - as in freedom of the media to present its information has been hampered greatly after the coup.

Among the three media, the electronic media including televisions and radios have been hampered the most. On the night of the coup, military troops were deployed to TV stations. CNN and BBC were blacked out for several hours after the military coup. In September 2006, the information minister instructed the media to be "cooperative" and "to limit, control, stop or destroy news which could damage to the constitutional monarchy". In a few days to follow, around 300 community radios, claimed by the junta to be the supporting former Prime Minister Thaksin, were shut down.6

Over the past year, television and radios continued to face intimidation. In January 2007, many televisions had to resort to self-censorship the CNS asked for "cooperation" with the national and privately owned television not to broadcast messages and statement from former Prime Minister Thaksin, the ousted Prime Minister and other Thai Rak Thai leaders for the sake of national solidarity.7

In May 2007, People's Television news programmes broadcasted by PTV, formed by former members of former Prime Minister Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party were stopped being aired.8 The PTV has been receiving particular threats and harassment the most.

The printed media unlike the television or radio, which the government perceives as could pose direct threat to the regime, also faces numbers of indirect threats. Printed newspapers were also asked along with other media to present a favourable view of the government. In response, the printed newspaper resorted to self-censorship, which means that journalists' articles were self-censored by the editors. This is reported to have happened to two daily newspapers.9

In terms of the effects on the freedom of expressions on the website, it was estimated that about 15,000 websites have been closed down by the order of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT).10 The website of the 19 September Network against the coup d'état, a network of students and activists, was shut down twice by the MICT. There are also numbers of acts including the Crime on Computer Act 2007 that was passed in August 2007, posing a direct threat to internet users. In September 2007, the act was used to detain two internet users without trial, on the charge of posting lese majeste comments. Apart from the freedom of expression being in danger, the issue of due process of law is still largely in question for this case.

Similar to the situation under former Prime Minister Thaksin, HRDs critical of the government were targeted. Chotisan Oon-soong, a leader of the 19 September Network against the Coup, was handing out leaflets critical of the coup d'etat during an October 2006 demonstration in Bangkok, was approached by military officers who requested him to report to the Chanasongkram Police Station. The military attempted to apprehend him but other demonstrators linked hands around him and prevented the military from taking him away.

Sombat Boonngam-anong, a leader of the Thai Say No group was issued a defamation charge by General Sonthi Boonyaratklin and General Saparang Kalayanamitr, when he organised a mock dart game using them as targets in the anti-coup demonstration from 24 June to 3 July in Sanam Luang.11

  1. Freedom of Association

Right after the coup, freedom of association was prohibited under the Declaration of the Council of Democratic Reform (CDR), the name used by the CNS right after the coup d'état. Two specific declarations namely article 5 and 7 prohibiting the "gathering of farmers, workers, and political parties" and "prohibiting the gathering of more than five persons in the public places".

Assembly of the Poor (AOP) a pro-poor network of farmers focused on land and environmental rights are continuously being targeted. According to Prachatai, a local alternative media, a number of AOP offices had been visited by military officers, notably in the provinces in Northeastern Thailand.

Worker Activists from different trade unions, particularly the Rangsit trade unions, reported that there have been numbers of intimidations, particularly after article 5 of the CDR was imposed. There are a number of incidents where military officers were stationed in front of factories and trade union leaders, who were critical of the coup, were followed. In one instance, five soldiers had been stationed at the entrance of Krisda Nakorn Village, where an office of an association working for workers' rights is located. They were removed in March 2007.12

Thai Rak Thai Party, the party of former Prime Minister Thaksin faces harassment. Right after the coup, four ministers of the party were arrested and detained for about 12 days.

Apart from the Thais, Burmese refugees and migrant workers also faced intimidation after the military coup. The declaration from the CDR prohibiting the gathering of five peoples greatly affected the Burmese migrant workers from travelling. Furthermore there are also declarations prohibiting migrant workers from going out of their houses after 9 pm.13 Notably there have been an increase in military between the northern town of Chiang Mai and the border town of Mae Sot, where many Burmese activists and migrant workers reside.14

  1. Freedom of Assembly

Directly following the coup, the first group criticising the military were networks of students and young activists. Although, the rallies are held freely in Bangkok without intimidation from the government or military presence, however, other provinces and areas outside the capital city had been more liable to direct coercion.

On 22 September 2006, three days after the coup, a group of Chiang Mai University students held a seminar on the campus, inviting professors from the Midnight University, an alternative network of social academia. They were approached by the military and police officers asking them to disperse. Although, there had been harassment by authorities during the 1990 period, never before has harassment happened on a university campus.

However, groups exercising freedom of assembly in areas where Martial Law (as in Northeast, North, and Southern Thailand) is still being upheld face the highest levels of harassment and threats. The military alleged that these three parts of the country is the stronghold part of the country under former Prime Minister Thaksin.

In Southern Thailand, 13 May 2007, a peaceful protest of 2,000 demonstrators under the name "Land Development Farming Organisation for Agriculture in the South" took part in the rallying Surat Thani Province demanding for the land to be allocated to the poor. The demonstrators were faced by authorities using tear gas, shot guns, batons, and water cannons and detainees were forced to remove their shirts. The pictures was reminiscent of the May 1992 uprising and the October 2004 Tak Bai Incident.15

In the Northeast, Assembly of the Poor (AOP), a network of pro-poor farmers had been prevented from coming to Bangkok to hold rallies in front of the government houses. There are also reports that police special branch had been asking the AOP leaders not to hold demonstrations for six months and military officers came during one seminar event and told the AOP coordinator that their seminar cannot be conducted16.

Sombat Boon-ngamanong, a key anti-coup activist and a key leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) was arrested in Chiang Rai province while demonstrating in the central bus station in the city. He was apprehended by four military officers and detained at Mengrai Military Camp for two days. He was also threatened that under the Martial Law, he could face a death sentence for "being against the nation".

The most recent incident was when about 5,000 demonstrators clashed with the police in July 2007, after police tried to disperse the crowd. Although both sides suffered injuries, it remains quite clear that police attempts to detain the protest leaders led to more serious violence.17

  1. Analysis and Recommendations

The one year period after the military coup d'état on 19 September 2006 has revealed that the situation of human rights, specifically the three basic freedoms has deteriorated.

  • The military government, which will serve until the December general election needs to respect and fulfil the rights, enshrined under the 2007 constitution and international human rights documents including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

  • The government needs to follow the recommendations given by the UN Human Rights Committee, the Treaty Body of the ICCPR.18

  • Martial Law that is being maintained in 35 out of the 76 provinces must be immediately lifted as it increases the potential for human rights abuses.

  • The government needs to understand and allow freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly to flourish as they are basic factors for democratic development.

  • The government needs to extend an open invitation to Mr. Ambeyi Ligabo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection on the rights to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, for a visit to Thailand. He has requested to visit the country since 2004, for assessment and implementation of recommendations for the realisation of freedom of opinion and expression in the country.

  • The government must provide remedy to the victims of these violations by bringing the perpetrators to justice, and guaranteeing that these violations do not occur again.

  • The recommendations and findings of the National Human Rights Commission must be made into public policy and practice.

Where's Kavi?

Supinya risked life and limb against Thaksin and the junta in defense of press freedom and liberal democracy while Kavi shills for dictators.

Who is more deserving of the Democracy Award?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is the money quote from our democracy award medalist: Regional Perspective, Sept 17, the Nation

It has been said before and it must be said again that the Foreign Ministry under Nitya Pibulsonggram has failed miserably to restore confidence in Thailand's democracy and political transparency in the international community.

So according to Kavi, Thailand is a democracy and if the world has a different impression, it was only due to the incompetence of Nitya and the FM bureaucrats. One year after September 19, it was the cast and not the coup that let down Thailand's democracy.

Further evidence of a brilliant democratic mind from the same article:

Thailand, being a member of the globalised world and a democracy - though a fragile and unconsolidated one - owes the international community a major explanation when dramatic political changes take place.

Notwithstanding that since 9/19, Thailand has been ruled by a military junta-appointed government, a junta-appointed parliament, a politicized judiciary, a constitution engineered to preserve elite and military control, and the threat of a draconian internal security bill, we are a democracy albeit an unconsolidated one.

And it all started with a "dramatic political change(s).."

What the f*k is wrong with this picture?