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Long Arm of Thai Junta’s Repression Reaches UK

London-Based Dissident Targeted for Arrest for Criticizing Military Rule

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha gestures as he leaves Thai Union company in Samut Sakhon, Thailand on March 5, 2018.    © 2018 Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
Before Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha meets UK Prime Minister Theresa May in London this Wednesday, the junta’s long arm of repression has already reached there, targeting critics of the government. 

Thai authorities issued the arrest warrant for Watana Ebbage on June 12, citing the draconian Computer-Related Crime Act. Watana’s supposed crime was posting information on her Facebook page, KonthaiUK, alleging corruption in military procurement programs.

Shockingly, at least 29 people in Thailand have now been arrested simply for sharing Wattana’s posts. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison for each post.

When she meets with Prayut, May should address the repression that is a daily reality in Thailand despite the junta’s promises to hold an election early next year.

The junta wields unchecked power and violates human rights in Thailand with impunity. It routinely enforces censorship. Hundreds of critics and dissidents have been prosecuted on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) when they peacefully express opinions. Public gatherings of more than five people and anti-junta activities are prohibited. Thousands have been summoned and pressured to stop criticizing the junta. Military authorities secretly detain people for up to seven days without charge and interrogate them without access to lawyers or safeguards against mistreatment.

Since the junta took power in a May 2014 coup, the UK has repeatedly stated that bilateral relations with Thailand will only be normalized when democracy is fully restored through free and fair elections. As a longtime ally of Thailand, those words carry weight. Now they need to be translated into action.

There should be no red-carpet welcome for Prayut, the junta leader who has repeatedly given empty pledges about guaranteeing fundamental freedoms for Thai people ahead of the promised elections.

No business deals should come at the expense of serious discussions on Thailand’s deteriorating human rights situation.

May should make sure that Prayut returns to Bangkok with a clear understanding that Thailand’s human rights problems remain a top priority for London and that the Thai government’s future with the UK depends on the restoration of respect for human rights and democracy in Thailand.

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