Climate of fear prevails

Climate of fear prevails

At a Pattani forum on Sept 28, 12 panellists who included opposition party leaders discussed constitutional amendments and how they could address the prolonged conflict in the restive deep South.

They did it in a civilised manner and under the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the charter. But the military-led Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) saw it as an act of sedition and recently filed a police compliant against them. Isoc's move is a disgraceful act of intimidation as much as it is an assault on democracy.

What is worse is that it seems to have received the stamp of approval from Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who yesterday expressed his support for it.

Representing the head of the 4th Army Region which supervises the South, Maj Gen Burin Thongprapai, legal officer of Isoc's southern forward command, filed the complaint with police on Thursday. He accused the 12 panellists of distorting facts "in order to incite unrest and rebellion against the authorities in a way that will cause upheaval in the country or encourage people to violate the law". He asked the police to charge them with sedition under Section 116 of the Criminal Code which carries a maximum jail term of seven years.

The complaint does not provide more specifics. But it is widely understood that it likely includes a similar accusation made against one panellist, Kasetsart University lecturer Chalita Banthuwong, by pro-military groups in recent days.

These groups accused her of proposing an amendment to Section 1 of the charter which prohibits separatism. In fact, Ms Chalita just expressed her opinion that the debate on charter amendments should include issues such as the need for the state to embrace pluralism or decentralise power as well as Section 1.

What Ms Chalita raised at the forum has been part of public discussion for years. Many have asked whether the far South should be allowed greater autonomy or even turned into be a special administrative zone.

Notwithstanding her exact wording, she and everyone else should be allowed to express their ideas about charter amendments. This is a constitutional right.

Other accused panellists include Pheu Thai leader Sompong Amornwiwat and Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. The forum in Pattani was the fourth organised by the opposition.

By law, accusing anyone of sedition requires solid proof of their intent and motive to incite unrest and trigger law violations.

Maj Gen Burin does not seem to have such proof. Similarly, during the rule of the National Council for Peace and Order, he filed several sedition complaints as its legal officer against NCPO critics and opponents without solid proof. Many cases have been dismissed by the court or prosecutors. They were seen as efforts to intimidate and silence dissidents.

What is not mentioned in his latest complaint is the fact that Ms Chalita has criticised Isoc for leading the state's heavy-handed approach to dealing with conflict in the region since the 2014 coup. Before its dissolution, the NCPO transferred some of its functions and authority to Isoc, making it much more powerful.

This time, the complaint against the 12 can be seen as a blatant bid to have them and others shut their mouths either regarding charter change or Isoc's role in the region.

Isoc's move, along with Gen Prawit's apparent approval will likely make many worry that the climate of fear and blatant intimidation, prevalent during the NCPO's time, are here to stay.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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