Oppressive to the last
More than four years since the coup, there is still no end in sight to the systematic abuse of the law and intimidation by the police and military of political dissidents and ordinary citizens.
Three unrelated incidents that took place this week -- the computer crime indictment of Facebook users, a lese majeste court trial and a Thaksin-Yingluck calendar raid -- speak volumes. They stand as a reminder of just how disproportionate, unjust and questionable law enforcement against freedom of expression has been under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
On Monday, prosecutors indicted nine people on computer crime charges who shared a Facebook post that loosely accused local military and police officers of facilitating illicit drug activities in certain communities. The case was initiated earlier this year by the NCPO's "legal department", which made a complaint to the police. The Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) then arrested them in June for entering "false information" into a computer system which is a violation of the Computer Crime Act (CCA).
Obviously, the post could have upset the military. But the NCPO should have just investigated the claim. If it been proven to be false, the regime and especially the head of the NCPO, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, would have had plenty of media channels to correct it publicly. No one should be punished for trying to keep state authorities accountable.
Then, on Tuesday, a military court rejected for a seventh time a bail request from a 55-year-old poet, Siraphop Kornaroot, and has kept him for what appears to be the longest ongoing detention so far of a lese majeste defendant.
Siraphop was picked up by soldiers in July 2014 after the coup. The TCSD charged him with lese majeste and computer crime offences for three internet posts, which feature a poem and caricatures, that appeared between 2009 and early 2014.
So far, Siraphop has spent four years and four months behind bars. His case has been heard in the military court, even though he is a civilian, behind closed doors since September 2014. The court has only heard from two of the 10 witnesses, prompting speculation that Siraphop will spend a long time in jail on remand while the case drags on.
The third case of questionable law enforcement also took place on Tuesday. A combined force of 50 police, military and local administrative officials raided a shop in Ubon Ratchathani and seized copies of a calendar bearing a photo of two ousted prime ministers -- Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra. Even though the police still have not charged the shop owner with any offence, the heavy-handed raid sends a threatening message to political dissenters.
The three recent incidents were reminiscent of several other cases over the past few years under this military regime.
The CCA along with the lese majeste and sedition laws have been indiscriminately and repeatedly misused against netizens for social media posts or for sharing other people's posts.
Meanwhile, there have been at least 127 people arrested for lese majeste offence since the coup, 57 of whom have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms of up to 35 years, according to the International Federation for Human Rights and the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.
The calendar raid also reflects a pattern of state intimidation against political dissenters, many of whom sided with the previous government ousted by the coup. Soldiers and police officers have shown up uninvited at the homes of political activists, offices of academics and at peaceful public forums, to deliver ominous warnings or simply to intimidate the hosts.
If the NCPO really wants to heal political conflicts and forge reconciliation as it claims, it should have the authorities drop all political charges against these, other political dissidents and ordinary Thais.
Otherwise, once it's gone it will be remembered at home and abroad as a regime presiding over state-sponsored violations of fundamental rights to freedom of expression and fair trials.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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