Thailand’s military government is brazenly seeking to shut down debate ahead of a referendum on a draft constitution, Amnesty International said today.
At least a dozen Facebook commenters have been detained or charged on 27 April under a draconian new Order issued by the head of the military government. The arrests come after they commented on the controversial draft of a new constitution Thailand’s military government is seeking to impose.
The Facebook users who were charged under the law now face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 200,000 baht ($5,715).
“If ordinary people cannot comment on a Facebook post without facing the threat of 10 years behind bars and a hefty fine, what hope is there for any open and honest debate on the military government’s draft constitution?” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s Director of Campaigns for South East Asia.
“Thailand’s military government must immediately withdraw charges against the commenters and release them unconditionally. It is not up to any government to determine what can or cannot be said about a referendum where citizens are expected to exercise their own political judgment.”
Thailand’s military government has proposed a draft constitution which will be voted on in a referendum on 7 August. In the lead up, however, the authorities have intensified their campaign to suppress the human right to freedom of expression. On a near-daily basis, people are arrested and punished for even making basic observations about political events.
Somchai Sriusthiyakor, the Election Commissioner, has chillingly said that he wishes to “to make an example” of those who post comments on the draft constitution that the authorities disapprove of.
He accused the commenters of “using foul and strong language,” arguing that the authorities would welcome debate that assumed “an academic fashion with reason and logic”.
“The Election Commissioner claims to want an enlightened debate, but the steps the government has taken to choke dissent suggest that the authorities have no patience for opinions different from their own.”