‘Unfreedom in Thailand’
By: Naveed Qazi
Whenever there has been a military junta ruling a country and making amendments to the constitution, a repression is almost inevitable. The regime in Thailand seems one of those brutish examples – the Thai regime had attained power in May 2014. Before this, 2006 military coup made news headlines.
A year later, in March 2015, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-Ocha replaced the Martial Law Act of 1914, with Section 44, which made him enjoy full impunity, without any accountability from the judiciary, administration and the legislature.
The Thai government, in their official narratives, argues about the freedom, they have given to their people, through the constitution, most notably, in the 1997 amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees an addition of forty rights, as compared to fewer rights that were drafted in the 1932 Constitution. However, many countries including the United States, Japan, the European Union and others think otherwise. They ought to renormalise their relations only after civil rights are enshrined to the public.
It is believed that the Thai coup leader, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan –Ocha has routinely curbed dissent in the public sphere. He is known to put a restraint on public debates. As of now, hundreds of activists have been jailed for computer-related crimes, sedition and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy). The military can detain people for up to seven days without the consent of lawyers.
Prime Minister Chan-Ocha, who heads the National Council For Peace and Order (NCPO) has promised to hold an election in February 2019. Even if the election is held, it will be a broken promise, if the election conducted will not be free and fair.
The NCPO has summoned around seven hundred fifty-one people belonging mostly from the previous regime that includes former Prime Minister Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the “Red Shirts.” Others individuals who were summoned were politicians, activists, and journalists accused by the military in anti-coup activities and belittling the monarchy (lese majeste). The military has prosecuted around twenty-two people and refuses to provide information about them who are most probably in secret detention.
The NCPO also ordered print media not to be critical of the military. TV and radio programs were instructed not to invite commentators, critical about the situation in Thailand. In April 2015, Thai junta suspended the broadcasting of Peace TV and TV 24, two satellite TV stations.
Military units in Bangkok and other provinces cancelled at least thirty political events and academic debates. The military also banned at least twelve seminars and public forums on issues related to land and community rights. At least twenty two other public gatherings were also blocked by the military.
Recently, the NCPO’s banned political gatherings that involved more than five people. The junta subjected them to a year in prison and fined them with 20,000 baht (approximately US$600). At least sixty-three activists have been arrested since the junta came into power, for organizing and taking part in public gatherings.
In World Report 2018, Human Rights Watch alleged that the Thai military junta has done nothing to augment the functions of democratic institutions, which include holding of elections through the ballot boxes.
HRW Asia Director, Brad Adams believes: “instead of restoring basic rights as promised, the junta prosecuted critics and dissenters, banned peaceful protests, and censored the media.”
In November 2017, the military junta disapproved a petition where the locals demanded an abolition of a coal plant construction in the Songkhla Province.
The Thai government, in an uncouth manner, suspended a law called Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill that makes torture and enforced disappearance a criminal offence. It seems that the government would not reintroduce the bill in the current time.
To the watchers, it seems to be a chaotic affair, as there is no justice given to the 2003 War on Drugs victims and to the 2010 street protestors.
In the current times, the Thai society is facing innumerable problems.
According to US Government’s Bureau of International Labour Affairs, a list of one hundred thirty-six goods are produced by child labour. As per this report, child labour in fishing, agriculture, and forestry is most common, followed by manufacturing, mining, quarrying and pornography.
In the south, an ongoing insurgency is raging since 2004, in the former ‘Sultanate of Pattani’, also known as ‘Three Southern Border Provinces’ (SBP), along with Songkhla Province and northeastern part of Malaysia (Kelatan).
In the past, Pattani Sultanate traded with China, Japan and Europe in its days of triumph and glory.
During the eighteenth century, the Malay dominated population, in an ethnically dominated Thai and Buddhist population was met with cruelty by the Thai military generals, who would order men, women and children to be tied together only to be trampled by an elephant.
Over 6,500 people have died and over 12,000 people have been injured in the conflict between 2004 and 2015. The insurgency currently is led by hardcore jihadists who pit themselves against the Thai speaking Buddhist community. They have attacked not only police and army men, but also schoolteachers, civil servants and Buddhist monks. Basically, anyone who they thought as agents of right-wing Thai imperialism. Car bombs, too, have become common in parking areas in the region.
In a gruesome incident in 2004, the Thai army arrested hundreds of young men for protesting against other arrests. They were huddled together into trucks and taken away to an army base where seventy-eight of the prisoners were believed to have been suffocated.
During 2004, it had been believed by regional analysts that foreign militants had penetrated the area with the help of foreign funding. The regional economy largely sustains on rubber plantations.
It is believed that the headcount strength of militants ranges from around 10,000 to 30,000. Only feeble attempts of political dialogue have been initiated.
The government has also refused the recognition of Malay language in the region. It seems that the struggle is basically against the political centre to attain greater autonomy within the region.
Naveed Qazi is the author of ‘The Trader of War Stories’ (2018) and ‘Musings on Global Politics’ (2018). For feedback write to email@example.com