UN condemns ‘mounting’ Thai junta rights restrictions

The Democracy Monument, built in 1939, in central Bangkok. [RogerW/Flickr]

The United Nations condemned “mounting” rights restrictions in junta-ruled Thailand on Friday (19 August), calling on the kingdom’s generals to quickly return power following the passing of a new military-crafted constitution.

Thai voters cast ballots in favour of a new charter — the country’s twentieth — in a referendum earlier this month that was hailed by the junta as an endorsement of their two years in power.

Some 61% of voters approved the document, although independent campaigning and open debate was curbed ahead of the polls and turnout was subdued compared to general elections at 59%.

The UN said restrictions on freedom of expression and political assembly put in place since the 2014 coup “actually increased” ahead of the referendum.

“We are very concerned about the continued, mounting constraints on the democratic space in Thailand, and call for a prompt return to civilian rule,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.

The UN’s statement echoed similar criticism by the United States and the European Union since the vote.

Committee for the Protection of Journalists

Separately, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists called last night (18 August) for the junta to “cease its systematic harassment of the broadcast media and allow reporters to do their jobs without interference or fear of reprisal”.

The statement came in relation to the reported suspension for 10-days of two TV journalists for apparent negative coverage of the run-up to the 7 August referendum, where the military imposed sharp curbs on reporting and banned campaigning for a ‘no’ vote.

Nattakorn Devakula and Atukkit Sawangsuk, both of Voice TV, have been taken off air for 10 days, in order to avoid further curbs on the station, according to the Twitter feed of Voice TV news director  Prateep Kongsib.

“The censorship of Voice TV for reporting on a topic of national import shows just how dire the press freedom situation has become for Thailand’s media,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia programme director.

“If Thailand is truly on a path back to democracy, as Prime Minister Prayuth frequently claims, then it’s time to stop this crude censorship and targeted harassment of individual journalists.”

Voice TV is owned by Panthongtae Shinawatra, son of the former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Former army chief turned Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has promised to hold fresh elections at the end of 2017, but only if conditions are calm. His previous election deadlines have slipped.

Shamdasani said at least 115 people were arrested or charged for expressing views about the constitution ahead of the referendum.

She urged Thailand to “drop all charges” and release from jail those being punished for expressing an opinion.

Prayuth has previously hit out at foreign criticism of his government, the most authoritarian Thai administration in decades.

Thai junta finance minister brushes off foreign investment plunge

Thailand’s finance minister on Thursday (18 August) brushed off concerns about plunging foreign investment under junta rule, saying “there is light ahead” now that voters have approved a military-crafted constitution.

In a terse message released through the prime minister’s office after the vote, he accused unnamed foreign elements of harbouring “malicious intent”.

“All these interferences have inevitably led us to have contempt for the sentiments of those who claim to be ‘friends’ of Thailand,” the statement read.

Thailand has been bitterly divided ever since the military launched a coup in 2006 that toppled Thaksin Shinawatra as prime minister.

Years of competing protests and instability followed, resulting eventually in the 2014 coup that ousted the government of Thaksin’s sister Yingluck.

The Shinawatra clan have won all general elections since 2001 by promising greater wealth and opportunity to the nation’s poor, especially in the long neglected north and northeast.

But his parties were loathed by a Bangkok elite and by southern voters – backed by the military establishment – who accused him of corruption.

The military say that they have restored stability and that their constitution will curb civilian political corruption.

Critics say it will further entrench the military’s hold over future governments.

EU-Thailand relations after the coup

Thailand suffered a military coup in May 2014 - overthrowing the democratically-elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra after months of street protests, just as the second-largest economy in ASEAN was about to sign a Free Trade Agreement with the EU.

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