Thailand faces serious challenges on Human Rights Day
Tomorrow is our Constitution Day; others in the international arena know it as Human Rights Day. Many of us in Thailand feel that we don't have either — at least for the time being and hopefully not for the long haul.
In principle, with Thailand's position as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the government and its alter-ego, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), have an obligation to protect rights as prescribed in Article 19.
"1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 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. 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals."
In reality, NCPO chief and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has repeatedly asked the populace not to press for democracy and elections, claiming this is not yet the right time. He quickly added martial law would stay in place "as long as necessary".
NCPO deputy chief and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon added: "It's alright to disagree with the NCPO, but don't express the disagreement."
So anyone who thinks differently or acts any way other than how the NCPO allows is treated as a de facto criminal in this Land of Smiles.
Despite the unfavourable political atmosphere, several foreign embassies have organised lunches or dinner receptions for human rights defenders in the country this week.
At least three ambassadors plan to attend a human rights seminar organised by the Council on International Educational Exchange tomorrow in Khon Kaen.
The junta and the government do not seem to be bothered about human rights, even after Thailand lost a contest for membership of the UN Human Rights Commission and although we are also competing with Kazakhstan for non-permanent membership in the UN Security Council.
They still cling on to martial law with no sign that it will be lifted any time in the near future.
Here, there and everywhere in the country, the military — more specifically the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) — has intensively monitored signs of dissent and launched counter-intelligence operations, summonses and lawsuits to stamp it out.
Gen Prayut has repeatedly pleaded, sometimes with clear annoyance, that expressing dissenting views or making anti-NCPO gestures are not what "good people" do.
Martial law is for protecting the good guys, so if activists and students are moral and good, then they shouldn't worry, is the message our dear leader keeps reiterating.
Honest, critical views made by the media and academics have been bluntly rebutted by the general and his staff.
Editors have been summoned, a TV host was taken off the air over her reform discussion programme at Thai Public Broadcasting Service.
A Chulalongkorn University political scientist was detained after leading a march for land reform in the North, not to mention the NGO or university forums that have been aborted or blocked from being broadcast, such as a discussion on torture last week.
Midnight University members who have called for martial law to be lifted were also "warned"; Ubon Ratchathani University lecturers were also "summoned"; youth activists were interrogated and photographed for posting anti-coup pictures on Facebook; the Dao Din group of law students and their families in Khon Kaen were placed under surveillance after an anti-coup stunt in front of PM Prayut on his first tour to Northeast. The list goes on.
NCPO orders and martial law have become iron walls that have created a chilling effect across the country.
Many protesters who have expressed disagreement with the junta by flashing the three-finger salute used in a Hollywood movie as an act of defiance, or by putting duct tape or a hand over their mouths in public or in photos posted on Facebook, have had to endure many forms of intimidation. Several have been detained — albeit temporarily — and threatened with jail.
Martial law has allowed the military to detain people without a court order for seven days. It also blocks normal channels of justice. Anyone who is charged with triggering a "security offence" — be they violations of martial law or the lese majeste law — are to be tried in military courts that proceed with secret hearings and no appeals.
As the rest of the world marks the significance of human rights tomorrow, this is how Thailand is faring under the military regime.
Achara Ashayagachat is Senior News Reporter, Bangkok Post.
Senior reporter on socio-political issues
Bangkok Post's senior reporter on socio-political issues.