Ex-private stands firm after online harassment for criticising military

After social media attacks for criticising Thailand’s military conscription system, a former private says his criticisms should be used to make the army more professional.

Phongsathon Chankaew, founder of the Way’s up media website and independent social worker, posted a Facebook message on 2 November 2017 about his decision to remove his earlier post about military conscription.

The previous post, that went viral online, criticised the military conscription system and the mistreatment of new recruits by senior officers, and said that it was a waste of time to serve. Phongsathon recently completed his mandatory military service

Many people shared this post and expressed agreement. But many Facebook users also harassed him for defaming the Thai military and being unpatriotic.

In his latest post, Phongsathon said he intended to make only constructive comments about the military and conscription, believing that mandatory conscription is outdated and should be replaced with a voluntary system.

“What I wanted to communicate and advocate was not an attack, but a reflection for the military to see an opportunity to develop policies to be modern and find ways for people to become soldiers without compulsion,” Phongsathon wrote, adding that this would require the military to improve welfare for military personnel and end abuses in military barracks.

Under the current law, it is mandatory for every Thai man, once they reach 21 years of age, to register for the annual draft. High school students have the option of enrolling in a three-year Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) programme during grades 10-12. Others can volunteer or try their luck at the annual draft. Those who draw red cards are conscripted to the branch of the armed forces indicated on the cards.

According to the military, 103,097 men across the nation registered for the April 2017 draft, but the armed forces needed only 76,953 conscripts.

Wilat Chantarapitak, a former Democrat Party MP and former advisor to a parliamentary anti-corruption committee, told the media in April that the military conscription system in Thailand is in crisis.

Wilat said mandatory military conscription is still necessary for national defence, but is riddled with corruption because more than half of conscripts end up as servants in the houses of senior officers or working in military cooperative shops.

There are also persistent headlines about physical abuse in military barracks, some of which results in death.

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22 Oct 2020
22 Oct 2020