Attitude re-adjustments: A new crackdown by Thailand’s military junta?

Originally published at Siam Voices on September 15, 2015

UPDATE [Sep 15, 2015 – 17:35h local Bangkok time]: Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk as well as former Pheu Thai Party  MPs Pichai Naripthaphan and Karun Hosakul have been released from military detention.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Two opposition politicians and a journalist are among a new wave of detainments by Thailand’s military government. A sign of things to come?

“Freedom can’t be maintained if we’re not willing to defend it.” That’s what Pravit Rojanaphruk tweeted on Sunday afternoon before his feed went unusually silent. On Monday he was reported to have been detained by the military government to undergo what it calls “attitude adjustment”. The journalist for ‘The Nation’ newspaper, known for his outspokenness in his articles and on social media alike, seemed to know what was coming, tweeting on Saturday:

He is now at an undisclosed army base, without access to a lawyer. It is unknown how long he will be held and also initially why. This has sparked a flurry of criticism against Pravit’s detention. Whether it’s from his newspaper ‘The Nation‘, its parent company, the Thai Journalists’ Association, or international organizations like the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand and Reporters Without Borders – all have condemned the arbitrary action by the military junta and called for his immediate release. The Nation Group’s editor-in-chief Thepchai Yong said: “There is no justification whatsoever for his detention. If the military believes he has done something wrong, there are normal legal channels to deal with it.”

This was not the first involuntary visit to the generals for Pravit, as he was summoned three days after the military coup of May 22, 2014 among hundreds of politicians and other dissidents (see photo below). Following his six days in custody, he described the ordeal as “surreal” in an interview with Asian Correspondent. While the facilities at the army camp were reportedly comfortable and all detainees were treated respectfully – at times even “cordially” – Pravit suspected that it was all part of “psychological warfare” by the military and that his group were treated better than others. Furthermore, he said military officers attempted to gain information on other persons, including academics and foreign journalists, that are perceived to be critical of the Thai military. Pravit, like many other former detainees, are reportedly under regular observation by the authorities since their release.

Spokesmen for the “National Council for Peace and Order” (NCPO), as the military junta formally calls itself, released statements in a piecemeal fashion over the course of Monday explaining Pravit’s detainment, first saying that the journalist “disseminated information” in a fashion that could cause “misunderstanding” – a standard claim to shut down any criticism against the military rulers – while at the same time admitting that there has been no such proof yet. Then, another spokesman stated that the main reason for Pravit to be taken into custody was a “provocative and decisive” Facebook post, but stopped short of specifying which one and why. Because it was a Facebook post, the junta makes the pedantic distinction that Pravit was summoned “as an individual, not as a journalist”. The same spokesman also estimates that he “may be detained from three to seven days” and is expected to sign an agreement with the junta again not to violate their orders or otherwise be charged with sedition.

Pravit’s ordeal is the latest in a new string of detainments as two politicians of the toppled government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party – namely former energy minister Pichai Naripthaphan and former MP Karun Hosakul – are being held at undisclosed locations by the for almost a week now after both men were vocally critic of the military government’s policies. The NCPO says they will be released later this week after the necessary “attitude adjustment” (in case of Pichai his seventh) required to make them “stop making remarks” deemed harmful to the military’s “national reconciliation” efforts. Earlier this month, authorities revoked the passport of former education minister Chaturon Chaisang, who also criticized the military government.

These incidents come at a peculiar time for the military junta, which has refrained from mass-scale summons this year, relatively speaking (they are still regularly targeting grassroots anti-junta activists). However, as the recently rejected constitution draft has effectively extended the military’s authoritarian rule by at least another 7 months and democratic elections are delayed to as late as June 2017 (one and a half years later than promised after the coup), the generals seem to be even more sensitive of criticism. Deputy junta Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan has warned that anybody “slandering” the NCPO will be “called into army camp”, as “now is not the time” for that.

Junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha – who’s about to leave for the United Nation’s General Assembly in order to make the international community “know him better” – further emphasized the government’s low-to-zero tolerance stance last week, lashing out at journalists in his usual mercurial and sardonic demeanor, and threatening to silence every critic by jailing them “again and again”. “I’m just going to tape their mouths shut,” he added – just like second time-detainee and journalist Pravit did to himself before his first “attitude adjustment”.