THE Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday urged Thai military leaders to revoke “abusive” martial law powers, end censorship and release all people who were arbitrarily detained.
Since the military coup was announced on May 22, the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council (NPOMC), has arrested more than 100 ruling party and opposition politicians, activists, journalists, and others accused of supporting the deposed government, HRW said.
The military also imposed widespread censorship and other broad restrictions on broadcast, print, and electronic media. The NPOMC has imposed a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and banned public gatherings of more than five people.
“Military rule has thrown Thailand’s rights situation into a free fall,” Brad Adams, HRW-Asia director, said in a statement. “The army is using draconian martial law powers to detain politicians, activists, and journalists, to censor media, and to ban all public gatherings. This rolling crackdown needs to come to an end immediately.”
The military began arresting people on May 20, after the imposition of martial law nationwide.
The New York-based group said among those arrested were leaders and members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). There were unconfirmed reports that some UDD leaders and supporters last seen being arrested by soldiers at the Aksa Road rally site outside Bangkok have gone missing.
Among those detained incommunicado in secret locations are Boonlert Ruengtim, a core leader of the UDD’s militia who was arrested on May 20, and Chantana Warakornsakulkij and Chawawat Thongpuak.
“The military’s mass arbitrary arrests are made all the worse by holding people in secret detention,” Adams said. “Those who have allegedly committed crimes should be properly charged and face fair trials in civilian courts.”
HRW said censorship and other restrictions on media and free expression have intensified. Immediately after the coup was declared, military authorities ordered TV and radio stations to stop their regular programs and link their broadcast to the army TV Channel 5 for almost 24 hours. Armed soldiers arrested the deputy director of Thai PBS TV, Wanchai Tantiwittayapitak, and held him for several hours after his station defied the order by broadcasting its regular programs through Internet feeds. Even though those TV stations are now allowed to resume their regular programs, they have to strictly follow the junta’s order not to air any information critical of the military intervention.
The military has directed print media not to publicize commentaries critical of the military’s actions. TV and radio programs have been instructed not to invite on their programs anyone who might make negative comments about the military or the political situation in the country. Military authorities have told journalists that failure to comply will lead to prosecution.
“Widespread censorship and threats to the media are aimed at silencing any and all critics of military rule in Thailand,” Adams said. “Thailand’s friends and allies should demand an end to this assault on the media. In a political crisis, free speech is needed more than ever.”