Since seizing power from an elected government more than three months ago, Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order – the governing body of the coup makers – has continued to violate people’s freedoms.
Since seizing power from an elected government more than three months ago, Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order – the governing body of the coup makers – has continued to violate people’s freedoms. Last week, Amnesty International launched a report detailing human rights abuses that have taken place. It may herald stronger sanctions from the West against the military regime under Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Martial law remains in operation and it curbs many forms of freedom. Political activism is forbidden. The media works under constraints. Scholars are warned not to discuss politics, even in their own universities. Political parties are treated with the same suspicion as outlawed entities.
International organisations are particularly concerned by the many unreported ordeals of detainees who have been abducted and assaulted. The case of Kritsuda Kunasen, a red-shirt volunteer working for political prisoners, has exposed the cruelty of the military. She was punched in the face, stripped naked and nearly suffocated during interrogation. The military forced her to confess her association with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. When freed, Kritsuda escaped from Thailand and is now in the care of the United Nations.
A climate of fear has successfully silenced Thai society. The military has targeted the red-shirt supporters of Thaksin in the far-flung northern and northeastern regions of Thailand. Villages have been shut down, red flags burnt. Core leaders have been detained. In exchange for freedom, they were instructed not to engage in politics. The military has virtually obliterated red-shirt networks; consequently, it has weakened democratic institutions. Thailand is plunging into authoritarianism.
Anti-coup activists lying low in neighbouring countries are also in danger. Newly appointed foreign minister General Thanasak Patimaprakorn visited Cambodia on September 1 and met Prime Minister Hun Sen. Although the official agenda was to improve bilateral ties, Thanasak’s more urgent task was to seek Cambodia’s cooperation in handing over Thai fugitives.
Cambodia was once a sanctuary for Thai dissidents. At the peak of intimate relations between Thaksin and Hun Sen, Cambodia offered itself as a launch pad for the red shirts to attack their enemies in the old establishment. Obviously, Hun Sen is now bending with the prevailing wind.
The national council denies violating human rights. Instead, it is busy fabricating stories to justify detentions. Kritsuda has filed a complaint against the junta at the UN, but the police accuse her of involvement in an armed syndicate, thus enabling Thailand to request an extradition for her arrest. But such claims only deepen suspicions about the military’s maltreatment of political dissidents.
Painting critics as national threats is important for the military, as it can be used to justify the coup. But employing torture tactics to silence them will seriously diminish the legitimacy the military had been desperate to gain in the first place.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun is associate professor at Kyoto University’s Centre for Southeast Asian Studies