Thailand – Annual report 2007

Before he was overthrown in a military coup in
September, Thaksin Shinawatra had continued to weaken the independence
of the media and to harass dissidents. The government set up by the
junta has not lifted pressure or censorship, particularly online.

The year 2006 turned into a nightmare
for Prime Minister and media magnate Thaksin Shinawatra. At the start
of the year, the Thaksin clan suffered a stinging defeat in the courts
with the victory of press freedom activist Supinya Klangnarong whom it
had tried to gag. She had in particular condemned the head of state’s
conflict of interests. Under growing pressure from street
demonstrations, Thaksin Shinawatra mobilised his supporters against
media hostile to the government. At least six journalists were
physically attacked or threatened in April by some of his supporters.
Despite his promises, the prime minister continued to bring
“defamation” suits against media who criticised him, demanding grossly
inflated damages. In 2006, at least five journalists were sacked as a
result of government pressure.

The leading newspapers decided to make
a stand against the interventionism of the Thaksin government and in
May carried a collective editorial in which they stressed their
commitment to public service journalism. The Thai Journalists’
Association (TJA) also campaigned for defamation to be decriminalised.

During the 19 September coup, troops
were deployed around TV stations and the junta, which proclaimed itself
the National Security Council, threatened to bring back censorship. The
national terrestrial channels along with CNN and the BBC
broadcast on cable were blacked out for several hours, apart from the
independent Nation TV. A few hours after the coup, the new information
minister instructed the media to be “co-operative” and “to limit,
control, stop or destroy news which could damage the constitutional
monarchy”. In the days following the coup, around 300 community radios
suspected of supporting Thaksin Shinawatra, were shut down in the
northern provinces.
General Surayud Chulanont, who was named as interim prime minister on
1st October, promised to guarantee press freedom and to draw up a new
constitution, to “cleanse the country of corruption” and to pacify the
Muslim south. It was only on 11 December that the government lifted
martial law in 40 of the country’s 76 provinces. A thousand people took
advantage of the situation to urge Bangkok to restore the 1997
constitution, of which Articles 39, 40 and 41 guaranteed press freedom.

The press, which was mostly favourable
to the departure of Thaksin, did not get much more freedom from the
military government. Journalists questioned by Reporters Without
Borders confirmed that they were still under pressure. When in December
the administration presented a budget in which military spending was
hiked by 34%, the press did not dare publish critical editorials.
Likewise, the Thai Journalists’ Broadcast Association (TJBA) said in
October that the television was no freer after the end of the Thaksin
regime. “In the past, we suffered from self-censorship. Today, we
cannot even investigate the activities of the junta (…) we are being
stifled”, said one of the organisers of the TBJA, three weeks after the
coup.

Under the threat of the crime of “lese
majesty”, punishable by 15 years in prison, the press is very limited
in talking about King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family, who quickly
gave their support to the military government. During anti-government
demonstrations, Thaksin Shinawatra and his opponents mutually accused
each other of such an offence, putting several media magnates,
including his fierce opponent Sondhi Limthongkul, at risk of being
sentenced to heavy prison terms.

The Ministry of Information and
Communications Technology acknowledges that it blocks thousands of
website, most of them pornographic. A few sites criticising the king or
condemning corruption are also filtered. In the days after the coup,
there was an increase in cases of political censorship online. Some
pages of the BBC and CNN,
along with Thai online publications hostile to the army takeover, were
made inaccessible. By the end of 2006, filtering of the Internet had
returned to its usual level.



THAILAND: Duel in foreign media

After
ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra slammed government in
interview, army chief Sonthi Boonyarataglin warns him against returning
home

Straits Times
Sunday, February 4, 2007

Bangkok — The war of words between Thailand’s ousted prime
minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the generals who overthrew him in a
coup has gone international.

In his first interview with a Western newspaper since leading the
coup last September, army chief Sonthi Boonyarataglin told the Washington Post Mr Thaksin could return to Thailand — but at his own risk.

“It is very dangerous for a man to have hundreds of thousands of
people dislike him, for which reason I cannot say whether or not it is
safe for him,” General Sonthi, the Council for National Security’s
chairman, was quoted as saying.

He said democratic elections would be held before the end of the year.

He also sought to ease concerns that the military might have
long-term designs on the reins of power, saying it would hand over
control immediately to a civilian government after the inauguration of
a new prime minister.

“The elections will happen this year. As for the role of the army
after the elections, once we have a new elected government, the army
will withdraw and return to its units as a professional military,” he
said.

The report appeared in the Thursday edition of the American newspaper.

Last month, Gen Sonthi spoke to CNN and some Japanese media organisations.

Mr Thaksin himself has given several interviews to the international media, including CNN and the Asian Wall Street Journal last month.

And more are in the offing, his personal legal adviser Noppadol Patama said yesterday.

He said the interviews were not aimed at discrediting the
government, adding that the former premier was speaking positively
about Thailand and had the right to speak.

Tomorrow, Time magazine will publish an interview with him, along with an article about his life in exile.

In it, Mr Thaksin strongly criticised the government and the generals who toppled him.

“The junta wants to bring the country backward. That is not good. You should take the country forward,” he said.

He also described as “protectionist” the government’s policy of capital controls.

“No one can adopt protectionism any more. Thailand has to be ready for globalisation. You cannot turn your back on it,” he said.

As to why there was hardly any public outcry against the putsch, he
said: “First, the people are shocked. Then they start to voice their
concerns. And then they start to accept it, especially after it’s
endorsed by His Majesty the King.”

When asked whether he would return to politics, he reiterated that he had washed his hands of it.

“I’m quite confident that if I ran (for election) today, I would
win, (but) I have no political ambitions. I am calling it quits.”

He also defended himself against accusations of corruption, calling them “baseless.”

He added that some juntas ended up being more corrupt than an elected administration.

“At any rate, corruption will not go away in Thailand. It’s in the system,” he said.

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