(New York) – Thailand’s junta should immediately release Pravit Rojanaphruk, a well-known reporter for The Nation newspaper, who has been detained incommunicado since September 13, 2015 for criticizing military rule, Human Rights Watch said today.
“One day the Thai junta arrests an opposition politician, the next day it’s a journalist,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The junta is expanding its authoritarian control by arbitrarily arresting any and all critics of its repressive rule.”
On September 10, Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha told the media that he would not tolerate criticism of his government: “No one can oppose me. If they still don’t learn that, they will be detained again and again.… I might tape their mouths shut, too.” After Pravit’s arrest, Col. Winthai Suwaree, a spokesperson for the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta, said that the military detained the journalist because of his “presentation of information that does not comply with our measures for maintaining peace and order.” The junta has refused to provide any information regarding Pravit’s whereabouts, and has denied access to his family members and legal counsel.
Pravit, 48, has frequently reported on suppression of free speech in Thailand. Since the May 2014 coup, he has strongly criticized the junta in his columns, and on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. On September 13, Pravit received a telephone call from an army officer at the 1st Army Region, ordering him to report to the military authority. Representatives of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights went with Pravit. But soldiers stopped them from accompanying him when he entered the 1st Army Region headquarters at about 2 p.m. Pravit has not been seen in public since.
Thailand’s junta appears to have recently begun a stepped-up campaign against political dissent. Last week, the NCPO detained incommunicado two politicians – Pichai Naripatapan and Karun Hosakul – at undisclosed locations because of their vocal opposition to military rule. Prime Minister Prayuth also threatened legal action – including filing sedition charges – against anyone who publicly opposes the junta or makes comments that “undermine credibility” of his government.
Since the coup, the junta has repeatedly used arbitrary arrest and secret detention to intimidate and silence people critical of military rule. The NCPO has detained hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists, and people accused of supporting the deposed government, disrespecting or offending the monarchy, or being involved in alleged anti-coup activities.
The risk of enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill-treatment significantly increases when detainees are held incommunicado in unofficial military detention. Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party.
The junta typically compels persons released from military detention to sign an agreement, in violation of their basic rights, not to make political comments, become involved in political activities, or travel overseas without the junta’s permission. Failure to comply with the agreement can result in a new detention, a sentence of two years in prison, or a fine of 40,000 baht (US$1,250). Those who fail to report to an NCPO summons also face arrest and prosecution in military court, which provides no right to appeal the verdict.
Despite promises to respect human rights and ultimately restore democratic civilian rule in Thailand, Prayuth and the NCPO continue to tighten their grip on power. The NCPO has severely suppressed fundamental human rights across the country, particularly the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
Prayuth is scheduled to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York during the fourth week of September.
“General Prayuth’s appearance at the UN General Assembly later this month is a key moment for world leaders and the international media to press him on Thailand’s pledges to respect rights and restore democracy,” Adams said.