With major statements by Human Rights Watch and the Asian Human Rights Commission, both pointing to the further deterioration of human rights in Thailand, it is worth looking at what they say in some detail.
HRW’s statement notes the state’s aggressive censorship of opposition community radio stations associated with the red shirts, observing that the “crackdown followed the government’s announcement that it would dissolve parliament on May 6, 2011, in preparation for national elections.” The question then raised is one PPT has been commenting on for several months: how can an election be fair with the opposition stifled and censored?
HRW demands that the “government should immediately allow the stations to resume operations,” noting that the elections “can hardly be credible if the government closes down opposition radio stations and websites…”.
But even if these radio stations were able to operate – and the Abhisit Vejjajiva government fears these stations for they provide alternatives to mainstream and state-controlled media – even that would not make for a “credible election. As PPT has reported, however, arrests of red shirt leaders continue, aimed at shutting up the opposition.
HRW notes that the Abhisit government mouthed platitudes (PPT’s words) about being “committed to protecting rights, but it has become the most prolific censor in recent Thai history.”
That’s a big statement but absolutely true. PPT has pointed this out several times, noting that even Thaksin Shinawatra, accused of numerous human rights abuses, was not able to gain the same level of control and deliver the level of repression and censorship that this palace-military-capitalist regime has.
HRW’s complaint was prompted by the raids by “hundreds of armed police officers joined officials from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) … [on] 13 community radio stations in Bangkok and surrounding provinces associated with the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)…. The stations were forced off the air for broadcasting material deemed offensive to Thailand’s monarchy. Broadcasting equipment, computers, and documents were seized. At least two station operators were temporarily held in police custody and questioned, then released on bail.”
HRW notes that the raids “were ordered by the army commander-in-chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha…” who has been running a broad-ranging campaign against persons he deems a threat to the monarchy.
HRW claims the “court warrant … provided vague authorization for the raids on the ground that the community radio stations have been operating illegally. But among hundreds of unlicensed community radio stations across Thailand, only those closely linked with the Red Shirts have been targeted…”.
HRW added: “Freedom for all Thais has suffered badly because the government and military have cast aside the rule of law to clamp down on critical speech…”.
The military has responded, as seen in a remarkable story in The Nation. It is remarkable as arguably the most inane response ever by a military that seems to assume that the public is as brainless as the military speakers making the comments masquerading as “explanations.”
The story begins with a claim that the “13 community radio stations run by the red shirts were shut down because they violated the law and not because of any political reasons…”. This claim is attributed to Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) spokesman Major-General Ditthaporn Sasasamit who claimed that ISOC “had told the police it had received complaints from local residents about the illegal radio stations’ frequencies interfering with regular radio broadcasts.”
So we are left to conclude that the “complaints” were received for just 13 of the more than 800 stations and that each of these just happened to be red shirt stations. No one in their right mind could ever believe such nonsense. But the military just sprays it out there, treating sensible Thais with complete disdain.
Then, of course, it is added, and this time truthfully: “community radios also broadcast speeches made at the April 10 rally that contained messages deemed to be threatening to national security, offensive to the monarchy as well as inciting unrest…”.
Despite this statement of political acts, the army babbles on about “reject[ing] accusations that the recent raids on red-shirt radio stations were politically motivated.”
Army chief Prayuth chimed in, supporting the lame comments by army and ISOC spokesmen saying that “action had been taken because those radio stations had really broken the law by operating illegally, interfering with legal radio frequencies and provoking social unrest…. The stations tried to provoke violence, and even urged soldiers not to follow orders. They did something wrong…”. In truth, they were wrong because the oppose the government, the army’s political entanglements, coups, election rigging and the descent into brutish political authoritarianism.
The actions currently being taken against red shirts are clearly politically motivated and are designed to silence red shirt media.
Meanwhile, the Asian Human Rights Commission says that “blatant threats” made towards Somsak Jeamteerasakul were ignited by Army boss Prayuth, who “derided Somsak in an interview on April 7, describing him as ‘a mentally ill academic’ who ‘is intent on overthrowing the institution’ of the monarchy.”
AHRC describes this threat in the context of “ultra-conservative forces are using the symbolic power of the king and royal institutions to advance a new authoritarian project…”. PPT has delineated this “project” several times.
While all of this is going on, the Wall Street Journal has an interview with Prime Minister Abhisit that fails to mention the use of repression and intimidation against political opponents under the guise of lese majeste claims. For the WSJ, it is business as usual in Thailand. In fact, ther is nothing usual about current politics.
Hence it is surreal when Abhisit is cited on his “plans to dissolve the House of Representatives by Friday and call what he described as a landmark election…”.
PPT imagines that, if it does come off, it will only be a landmark in the sense that the military and elite backers have expended money and opposition blood in an effort to gain an electoral mandate for a government that could not win a free and fair election. If it does win, wait for all the nonsense about how free and fair this election was and how a mandate will permit further repression.
When Abhisit says: “This is a real opportunity for Thailand to get out of this cycle of violence…. For too long I think we’ve been held back” it should not be forgotten that he supported the whole string of events that saw multiple election results overturned by a tainted judiciary, palace political intervention and a military coup. The body count in the violence makes it clear that the state’s weapons and snipers were used to maintain this government in power.
PPT is quite taken aback by the WSJ’s comment that “[g]oing to the polls now might provide Mr. Abhisit with a fresh mandate to pursue fresh policies to help buttress the country’s economic progress, analysts say, and he is choosing to call the election several months before the end of his term in December in order to provide Thailand with a firmer sense of direction and to remove the shadow of uncertainty that still hangs over the country.”
We are taken aback because Abhisit has no mandate except that cobbled together with money from businesses backing the Democrat Party and its now coalition partners and the military and palace brokering a deal that bought parliamentarians to support the party of the aristocracy. That he is saying he will call elections just short of this parliament’s full term is not great innovation; most elections in Thailand come before a full term is served.
What is clear is that Abhisit is only now seeking an “electoral mandate” because he thinks that his military-backed regime, after all of its fixing and what used to be called “policy corruption” but for the “analysts” in the WSJ are “fresh policies,” finally has a chance of getting the votes it needs.
But really, where are the WSJ’s analysts on the corruption of the electoral process that has taken place very openly in a series of fixes, acts of political violence and censorship and repression? Where is the acknowledgement that the Abhisit government has become the most prolific censor in recent Thai history?