RSF condemns junta’s censorship of critics

Reiterating its condemnation of the Thai junta’s censorship of the media and online commentators since the 2014 coup, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is marking World Press Freedom Day by relaying Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk’s views and thereby supporting his right to express an opinion with complete freedom.

After promising a “Streisand effect” on 5 April in response to the junta’s attempts to silence Pravit, RSF has been pleased to see many media outlets report the fact that the junta prevented him from travelling to Helsinki to attend a World Press Freedom event organized by UNESCO.

Today RSF is relaying the article he posted on the English-language website Khaosod on 30 April and is contributing a translation of the article into Thai.

“It is now clear that more reports have circulated about this journalist’s views and the violation of his rights than if had been allowed to travel to Helsinki,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“The authorities must understand that every attempt to suppress an article may trigger a ‘Streisand effect.’ Above all, they need to understand that criticism and diversity of opinions are essential for a society’s improvement.”

Pravit told RSF that the junta fears losing control of the country if it allows criticism and that “any questioning of its legitimacy” is completely off limits for the media.

“Eight netizens are now charged with sedition despite posing no threat to national security, just to the junta’s growing sense of insecurity,” Pravit said. “Although most Thai media have failed to hold the military regime to account, ordinary citizens are expressing strong and critical views on social media. Some ended up being arrested as a result, but it is unlikely that the junta can imprison millions of people.”

The National Council for Peace and Order (as the junta is officially called) has been cracking down on freedom of expression and information in recent weeks, especially on the Internet, the only space where critics have been able to express themselves freely.

The referendum that the junta plans to hold on a proposed constitution is currently a very sensitive subject and any criticism of it could prove very dangerous. An electoral commission recently banned anyone (except the junta) from calling for a vote for or against the constitution.

Ranked 136th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Thailand has seen drastic curbs placed on media freedom since the military staged a coup in May 2014.

RSF issued a report on the situation in Thailand in November 2015. Entitled “Media hounded by junta since 2014 coup,” it urges the Thai authorities to stop using the threat of lèse-majesté charges and to repeal all draconian media legislation, including criminal code article 112, the criminal defamation law and the Computer Crimes Act, currently the subject of a disturbing revision.

In the past month, there have been many media reports about the travel ban imposed on Pravit, the junta’s censorship, and Pravit’s recent comments. Here are links to some of the reports available online.

The article that Pravit posted on the Khaosod website on 30 April.

Press Freedom Isn’t Free

A political cartoon by Stephane 'Stephff' Peray created days after the May 2014 coup d'etat for The Nation, a daily English-language newspaper in Thailand. The Nation did not publish the cartoon.

By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer

Press freedom isn’t free, and the price is especially high under a dictatorship. People must fight to maintain it, as they must freedom in general. We cannot maintain freedoms of press and expression if we are not willing to pay the price in the face of threats and tyrannies.

I paid the price by being detained twice without charge for a total of 10 days since 2014. Today, I was to fly to Helsinki to attend the World Press Freedom Day celebration, an event co-organized by UNESCO and the government of Finland, under the invitation of the latter.

I won’t be there Tuesday, however, as Thailand’s military regime has banned me from leaving the country.

Those are small prices to be paid, as journalists elsewhere face long-term detention or even assassination.

In Thailand, it is worth sticking it out against the junta, which prefers the much nicer name of “National Council for Peace and Order,” because freedom of the press is indispensable not just for a free-thinking society, but for any society wanting its people to coexist on the basis of rational thinking, mutual understanding and dignity. There can be no deliberation or empathy if society cannot publicly communicate and deliberate.

Journalists defending free expression are thus not only defending their rights, their indispensable tools of their trade but also the broader rights of society to think, express, articulate and debate publicly.

As I write these words, the crackdown on expression is spreading online.

On Thursday, eight Facebook and social media users were charged with sedition for defaming junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, the general who led the coup in May 2014. Three of these eight netizens are now also charged of violating the draconian lese majeste law, which prevents people from speaking and writing critically about the monarchy under threat of long prison terms.

Dictators of all stripes try to suppress press freedom and free expression as they see a threat to their autocratic existence. Prayuth has ruled Thailand, deliberately turning it into Juntaland, by making his desires into law through the exercise of Article 44 of his junta’s interim constitution, a set of laws also written by the coup makers after they overthrew civilian rule. He now wields absolute power.

Thailand’s military dictatorship is squeezing the public sphere, on the streets and online. The junta is fearful of voices speaking freely – for free and critical thinking are antithesis to military unthinking, where orders must be unquestioningly obeyed. Dictatorships seek to rule over a docile and unthinking population no longer aware of its rights as individuals. The dictator would say: These are the laws, these are the orders, but you won’t go to prison if you don’t break them.

Nothing is said about whether the law and the order are legitimate. Nor is it asked, as most media in Thailand have treated this regime like just another elected and legitimate administration.

That enables dictatorship, which does not tolerate such questioning because it doesn’t have legitimate answers.

Dictators around the world censor because they fear reasoning. Questioning and reasoning undermine the coercion and fear fundamental to maintaining dictatorial rule. A free press and questioning public are threats to dictatorial rule because rational thinking is the opposite of dictator unthinking. It’s through free thought that the might of dictatorial rule becomes naked and illegitimate.

Expecting people to be silent and afraid of unjust punishment is unsustainable and runs against human nature, however. The thirst for freedom, including press freedom, cannot be suppressed, for freedom to think and express are what makes us fully human.

My duty as a journalist is to continue to scrutinize and criticize the powers that be, dictatorial or not. My duty is also to defend the limited press freedom and freedom of expression that society still has.

The junta probably expected that, after two detentions, euphemistically called “attitude adjustments,” and the travel ban, I would keep quiet. I cannot for so much is at stake for Thai society, and it would be tantamount to abandoning my duties as a journalist and citizen to merely watch Thailand turn into Juntaland.

I try not to let fear triumph over faith and reason and hope that I will be able to have enough fortitude. Life is too short to be cowed.

Today I am supposed to be flying to Helsinki, but the Thai military dictatorship is afraid of scrutiny and criticism, so they banned me from traveling as punishment for speaking out and calling them for what they are – an illegitimate regime. No amount of illegitimate power can change my mind or make them legitimate, however.

Others in Thai media have over the decades accrued sufficient love for free expression to resist continued attempts at censorship. I know I am not alone in the struggle for liberty in Thailand.

For my part, I will continue to resist the normalization of censorship and dictatorial unthinking, however.

Writer’s Note: This column will also be published by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders on World Press Freedom Day as part of its campaign against the curbing of press freedom by Thailand's military regime.

Pravit Rojanaphruk can be reached at [email protected] and @PravitR.

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Read the article in Thai : ประวิตร โรจนพฤกษ์: เสรีภาพสื่อมิใช่ของฟรี

Publié le 03.05.2016
Mise à jour le 03.05.2016