Regime never suppresses free speech, says Prawit

Regime never suppresses free speech, says Prawit

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon on Saturday brushed off a call for an open dialogue on the referendum by European Union envoys, saying the regime never suppressed free speech.

Speaking after his return from Brunei, the deputy chief of the National Council for Peace and Order said channels were open for critics and supporters who could say what they wanted as long as it was not false or distorted.

The move came after EU envoys issued an opinion piece on "A call for an open dialogue on the referendum" that was published on Friday in the Bangkok Post and Post Today.

The piece was endorsed by the ambassadors of Austria, Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Spain and Sweden, the head of the European Union delegation and the ambassadors of Canada and the US.

The envoys said they have seen several positive steps to open political space.

"However, more recently, we have seen several troubling actions, including the arrest of activists, the shutdown of opposition media and restrictions on freedom of expression," they said.

"With less than one month to go before the constitutional referendum, we believe an open discussion on the merits of the draft in the time remaining is critical to the success of the government's announced goal of establishing a stable environment."

NCPO spokesman Piyapong Klinpan said yesterday that the regime did not do anything that would violate freedom of expression, noting critics could still proceed with their activities if they were not deemed against the law.

He said the NCPO was not concerned about the latest stance by foreign envoys.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said yesterday that the ministry kept the diplomats informed of political developments including the draft charter and the referendum process.

He said the draft charter and the referendum process were part of the "roadmap to democracy" and the government took legal measures necessary to ensure peace and order and a smooth transition.

He said those legal measures would never restrict freedom of expression as long as it was not disruptive to peace and order, adding the government was also open to opinions from all stakeholders in the reconciliation and reform process.

Gen Prawit also denied the military was behind the distribution of several thousand letters containing allegedly distorted information on the draft charter that were sent to residents in the North.

"I insist it is not the work of the NCPO. Some groups want to see the referendum collapse. I know who they are and actions will be taken," he said.

Democrat Party deputy leader Ongart Khlampaiboon called on the NCPO to heed the envoys' call, saying their suggestion was not based on any ulterior motives. "Several people are afraid to express their honest views due to the regime's bans and the referendum law. I think the NCPO is not open enough," he said.

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