(New York, July 9, 2014) – The arrest of a magazine editor for posting comments critical of the military on his Facebook page is emblematic of the military government’s deepening disregard for fundamental rights and freedoms, Human Rights Watch said today. Thai military authorities should stop arbitrarily arresting and detaining peaceful critics of the May 22, 2014 military coup and of martial law.
Thanapol Eawsakul, the editor of Fah Diew Khan (Same Sky) magazine, was placed under a seven-day administrative detention order on July 5 and transferred to police custody.
“Arresting an editor for a Facebook criticism of military rule shows just how far the junta will go to silence critics,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The military can neither arrest all critics nor wish them out of existence.”
Thanapol posted a Facebook message at 3:30 p.m. on July 4 indicating that the military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), had ordered him to stop making critical comments about the military authorities. Thanapol told colleagues that he then received a phone call from an unidentified military officer asking for a private meeting on July 5 at a coffee shop in Bangkok’s Soi Paholyothin 7 neighborhood. The officer assured Thanapol the meeting was only to exchange opinions and that he would not be arrested.
On July 5, Thanapol went to the meeting at about 12:30 p.m. and talked for 10 minutes with a man in civilian clothes who was later identified as Lt. Col. Pasakorn Kulraviwarn. Then Thanapol made a telephone call to a colleague, saying he would be taken into military custody. Shortly thereafter, soldiers in civilian clothes escorted him to a car.
From the car, Thanapol told his colleague by phone that he was being taken to the 2nd Cavalry Division. Around 6:30 p.m., the authorities imposed the seven-day administrative detention under martial law and transferred Thanapol to the police Crimes Suppression Division.
The military had previously detained Thanapol on May 24, after he was summoned under a martial law order. When he was released on May 30, Thanapol had to sign an agreement that he would not make political comments, become involved in political activities, or travel overseas without permission from the NCPO. Failure to comply could result in a sentence of two years in prison or a fine of 40,000 baht (US$1,250).
Since the May 22 coup, the military authorities have severely restricted the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. The authorities have targeted numerous dissidents and critics for censorship, arbitrary detention, and prosecution before military courts, Human Rights Watch said. More than 300 people have been held in military custody, including ruling party and opposition politicians, activists, critics, and journalists, as well as people accused of supporting the deposed government, disrespecting or offending the monarchy, or taking part in peaceful anti-coup activities.
The military authorities continue to arbitrarily arrest and detain people despite publicly asserting that the practice has stopped, Human Rights Watch said. In an apparent response to international condemnation, the NCPO announced on June 24 that everyone being held without charge in military custody had been released. Yet, the NCPO has provided no information about them.
Two days later, the military authorities announced that the formal summons procedure would be discontinued. However, Human Rights Watch found that on June 30 the NCPO issued at least one summons order without any public announcement, targeting Jom Petchpradab – an outspoken news anchor – and 17 other people.
University professors from Bangkok and other provinces have also been ordered to report to the military authorities, sometimes without written orders. In one such case, Hara Shintaro – a well-known Japanese professor at Prince of Songkhla University in the southern province of Pattani – was threatened with arrest on June 17 by the 4th Army Region commander, Lt. Gen. Walit Rojanaphakdee, who accused him of making comments that caused “disharmony in the society.”
“Arbitrary arrests of dissidents and critics are part of a wider human rights crackdown under military rule in Thailand,” Adams said. “Concerned governments should take a strong stand and demand that the military authorities fully abide by Thailand’s international obligations and build a road map for the restoration of a democratic government based on human rights.”