Friday, May 29, 2015The following letter of concern is part of an exchange between CJFE and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Thailand in Ottawa. You can read CJFE's previous letter in the series, as well as the response from His Excellency Vijavat Isarabhakdi, the Thai Ambassador to Canada. In your letter, Your Excellency stated that Thai media outlets are permitted “to broadcast and express their views freely,” and that Prayuth’s remarks about executing critical journalists were meant to encourage them to be “more constructive and balanced.” However, these comments are incredibly problematic, as attempting to influence the way that journalists report runs contrary to the most fundamental tenets of free expression. Media outlets have the right to develop their own editorial policy, be it positive or critical of government actions, without interference or intimidation from the government. CJFE was also distressed by the news Thai authorities had forcibly closed on April 27, which occurred shortly after we received your letter and undermines Your Excellency’s assertion that “the Royal Thai Government respects freedom of expression and believes it to be a basic foundation of a democratic society.” These actions are inconsistent with the government’s roadmap for democacy and continue to make Thailand an inhospitable place for journalists. A May 21 report by Thai freedom of expression documentation centre iLaw shows that up to 751 people have been summoned by the regime since the coup last year on May 22, 2014. Summoning ranged from being publicly identified and broadcasted on the radio, to being asked to attend meetings with military officials. Of whom, 163 have been pressed with political charges. Such actions do not indicate cooperation with the media, but rather severe persecution of civil society in Thailand. They also suggest that since taking power, Prayuth will only permit journalists to report in his favour. While Your Excellency has assured CJFE that the government is taking measures to advance a more democratic society in Thailand, specifically the lifting of martial law, this move was subsequently followed by the passage of a NCPO Order 3/2558. This order further centralizes power within the military junta and grants Prayuth immunity from prosecution. Particularly troubling is Article 5,, which prohibits the distribution of any news, publication or material that could likely cause public alarm or contain false information. This vaguely worded policy is open to abuse and continues to threaten the ability of journalists to conduct their work by encouraging a climate of self-censorship and fear of publishing content that the government might deem to “cause public alarm.” In order for Article 5 to provide for free expression, Thai need to develop clear guidelines for authorities to act upon, as has been requested by numerous press organizations. While the progress towards drafting a new constitution is significant, several proposed amendments could have a profoundly negative effect on free speech in Thailand. The Cyber Security Bill, , for example, could hamper free expression if used by authorities to crack down on citizens that are critical of the regime on online platforms. Another concern is a proposal to create a non-state legal body that would regulate the media to ensure media professionalism and ethics. Such an institution could allow the government to further reign in critical Thai media based on what they define as “professional.” The aforementioned developments undermine Your Excellency’s assurances that Thailand is committed to “the long-term goal of a stronger, more democratic and people-centred development,” even as martial law is lifted and a new constitution is being drafted. If the government is sincerely interested in preserving free expression for its people, Order 3/2558 must be repealed and the proposed constitutional amendments seeking to limit free speech must be dropped.
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