War on Amnesty the wrong battle
As a government that was transformed from a military regime, the government hardly has an impressive track record when it comes to protecting human rights, but waging a war against Amnesty International Thailand seems a step too far.
On Nov 26, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he ordered the Royal Thai Police (RTP) and the Interior Ministry to check if Amnesty International had violated any Thai laws following the watchdog's campaign regarding a contentious ruling last month by the Constitutional Court against pro-democracy activists calling for reform of the monarchy.
The court ruling found the activists were in the wrong in relation to Section 49 of the charter that prohibits people from using their rights and freedoms to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.
The decision related to a 10-point manifesto involving monarchy reform which was announced at a rally held by the United Front for Thammasat and Demonstration on Aug 10 last year as well as their subsequent follow-up campaigns.
The watchdog said such an interpretation was a "dangerous warning against freedom of expression". That challenge upset the government and ultra-royalist groups, which kicked off a campaign to boot the organisation out of the country.
Defending his decision, the prime minister said he did not wish to hear any individual or group speak ill about the country.
Police immediately acted on the PM's order. According to Pol Col Kissana Phatthanacharoen, the RTP is investigating whether the non-profit organisation committed any offences in a way that could threaten national security or the monarchy.
Gen Prayut has made it clear that the watchdog's licence could be revoked if it is found to have breached any national security laws.
At the same time, Seksakol Atthawong, an aide to the prime minister, vowed to expel the Bangkok-based watchdog via an online petition on change.org. The campaign was originally initiated three years ago by a capital punishment advocate using the pen name, "Real men don't rape'', in response to the watchdog's refusal to accept the use of the death penalty. It had been dormant until Mr Seksakol rekindled it a couple of weeks ago.
With senior government figures now involved, the campaign is taking on a new life. Some critics suspect the rapid speed at which online signatures have been collected hints at some kind of interference from on high.
Either way, this is another example of the Prayut government trying to use a state mechanism to silence its critics. In July, it came up with a controversial bill aimed at better "controlling" the civic sector.
Gone are the days when Thailand gained recognition for its constructive role in human rights advocacy in the international and regional arena. Nearly two decades ago, Thailand encouraged its peers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to set up an intergovernmental commission on human rights for the bloc. This agency came into existence in 2009.
The following year, Thailand made more progress when veteran diplomat Sihasak Phuangketkeow, who was then serving as the permanent representative of Thailand to the United Nations in Geneva, was named president of the UN Human Rights Council for 2010-2011.
But since Gen Prayut took power in 2014, the country appears to have taken a wrong turn in the area of human rights and freedom of expression. The military regime had no hesitation in using draconian laws against pro-democracy activists, even during the referendum process for the 2017 military-sponsored charter when people were supposed to be able to freely air their opinions about the supreme law.
Several critics found themselves in trouble just for organising a debate on the charter. Worse still, about a dozen political activists went missing in the early years after the government took power.
But times have changed. As the leader of an elected government, who entered office at the will of the people following the 2019 election, Gen Prayut has no choice but to bow to at least some form of democracy where criticism is tolerated. Gen Prayut means well in not wanting anyone to speak ill of the country, but killing the messenger won't solve any of the nation's problems. Abusing the national security law can also not be condoned.
The prime minister should also know that the RTP probe and notorious sign-up campaign by Mr Saksakol has already cast the country in a bad light. Gen Prayut must not forget Thailand has to stay committed to certain universal principles as pledged to the international community. By upholding these, the government, which always claims to be democratic, must open itself to different opinions -- even criticism.
Better yet, it should give due consideration to the criticism and make corrections accordingly.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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