Reporters Without Borders condemns the closure of a dozen community radio stations linked to the opposition “Red Shirts” in a major police operation yesterday in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces. An exact list of the radio stations raided by the police is not yet available.
“Coming just a few months before general elections, this crackdown is very disturbing,” Reporters Without Borders said. “If opposition media are no longer allowed to operate, coverage of the elections will inevitably be very one-sided. Worse still, this wave of closures could indicate a desire to permanently censor the opposition.”
The press freedom organization added: “The Thai government must end this kind of harassment, which targets not just the Red Shirts but also all those who publicly express their views about Thailand’s political system and monarchy. They are just exercising their right to free speech, which is necessary for a democracy to function properly.”
Three people are known to have been arrested during yesterday’s raids: Lek Suphan, a programme host on radio FM 105.75 Ruam Jai Thai (United Thais), the disk-jockey of a station that broadcasts on 105.40 MHz in Pathum Thani province and the manager of Radio Red Skills (96.35 MHz). The last two were later freed on bail.
The raids were covered by Prachatai, Thai E-News and other news websites, which said they were carried out by police and officials from various government departments. Some sources told Reporters Without Borders the raids were led by the government’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC).
Palot Chalermsan, an employee of radio Lam Lukka FM 105.40, was quoted by Prachatai as saying: “Between 20 and 30 officials from the Department of Special Investigation, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, the Crime Suppression Division and the local police came with a court order, confiscated equipment and took it away to Khu Khot police station.”
Palot said the station had resumed broadcasting just a week before the raid, after being off the air for repairs. The police said they carried out the raids on official instructions and claimed that the stations targeted had been broadcasting illegally and had defamed the monarchy.
The authorities often use lèse-majesté charges under article 112 of the criminal code for political purposes, especially to silence dissent and criticism of the monarchy. One of the latest targets Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a history professor at Thammasat University’s faculty of arts, was threatened by a government official on 22 April with a lèse-majesté prosecution in connection with a speech he gave last December proposing a reform of the monarchy.
In statement released on 24 April, Somsak said he had been followed by unidentified men on motorcycles during the past few days and had received an anonymous phone call in which he was told that security officials were keeping a close watch on him and were ready to arrest him at any moment.
Thailand is classified as a “country under surveillance” in the “Enemies of the Internet” report that Reporters Without Borders released on 11 March. A dozen people including bloggers, university academics and dissidents are currently being prosecuted on lèse-majesté charges.