The military dictatorship is increasing its crackdown as the charter referendum approaches. Its increased repression and control, while meant to ensure the junta’s preferred referendum outcome, is also part of the preparations for a post-referendum repressive regime, no matter what the outcome on the charter.
In a chilling report, an AP story states that “Thailand’s military government has tightened its control of media ahead of a referendum next month on a draft constitution, allowing the shutdown of any radio or television station whose broadcasts are judged to threaten national security.”
The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, used Article 44 of the junta’s interim constitution to authorize the threat and crackdown.
In part, the use of Article 44 is to limit legal challenges to media censorship and closures, as was the case for Peace TV. As the report has it,
The new order appeared to allow the commission to shut down any station regardless of court rulings. It can act according to a junta order defining threats to national security as including defamation of the monarchy, propagating malicious criticism of the junta, releasing secret official information, and instigating unrest.
Of course, what constitutes a “threat” is defined by the junta and in its interests.
Prachatai reports that:
The order authorised by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, gives authorities to the Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to close down media which fail to cooperate with the junta or present information deemed as threats to national security….
In other words, the NBTC have the power to shut-down media which present information critical of the military government or information which are deemed as threats to national security and the Thai monarchy.
According to this report, the Order also means that the authorities “cannot be held responsible for closing down the media which present such information.”
In other words, the authorities can censor with impunity.
Update 1: While on things draconian, we wonder about the thousands of anti-referendum letters that the military claims to have located, all wrapped in neat bundles. We at PPT can’t help thinking that this is the kind of frame-up that the military might concoct themselves. But if ity isn’t, then we note that the military junta is now opening people’s mail as well as their Facebook accounts, emails and more.
And if you’re wondering why the middle class and the Bangkok elite is quietly supportive of the dictatorship, then a read of a story at Scoop NZ, with this vignette that aptly summarizes yellow shirt media, social media and emails:
“Many people are sick and tired of political games and politicians in general, and many are also glad that the military took power, and happy with the peace and order today,” said businessman Chira Sirisambhand, 59, in an interview.
Mr. Chira’s relatives include generals and other military officers, active or retired.
His ancestors served in senior military positions dating back to a 17th century Buddhist kingdom in Ayutthaya — in today’s central Thailand.
“I totally agree with” the junta’s limits on publicly debating the draft or campaigning for or against it, Mr. Chira said.
“Why? Because the groups that are against the referendum can and will just say anything against it, and their supporters will just blindly support it.
“A clash of minds can just lead to another confrontation, physically or ideologically. We don’t need this,” Mr. Chira said.
It is still the irrational fear of Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts that drives support for all the dictatorship does.
Update 2: No sooner had we posted our previous update than we find a report in the Bangkok Post where the military junta has “denied the army was behind the delivery of documents containing distorted information to people.” Apparently, “[r]umours have spread the army was behind the move after some of the letters mailed to Chiang Mai were found to have originated in Dusit district of Bangkok which houses a large military unit.” That the letters contained the same “claims” the Election Commission says are in New Democracy Movement leaflets has also seemed just a little too convenient for many on social media. When a junta spokesman asks: “What could we gain from doing so?”, we assume he thinks most Thais are dolts.