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Thailand's Junta Targets Outspoken Academics and Activists

  • Gabrielle Paluch

Thailand's junta has summoned and detained activists and academics in the week it assumed power in a coup. The military says it is carrying out a reform agenda aimed at solving the country's more than six month long political impasse.

Since Thailand's new military junta, the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council, seized power, anti-coup protesters have been gathering by the hundreds in Bangkok, at impromptu events organized by text message and social networking apps.

Troops have been sent to confront protesters and clear the streets, and on occasion have arrested demonstrators for defying the ban on such rallies. The junta also has summoned members of the ousted government, activists and academics, detaining many of them indefinitely at an undisclosed location.

Most have obeyed the orders and reported to military offices. But a few, such as pro-government "Red-Shirt" activist Sombat Boonngamanong, rejected the instructions.

Instead, Sombat said authorities could find him at a Bangkok McDonald's, where a flash mob of protesters wearing masks bearing the image of his face had gathered. Chatuporn was one member of the masked mob who said the group's tactics come after many of their political leaders have been rounded up.

"Because Sombat make a game for everyone if you want to catch him just go ahead catch him everywhere," said Chatuporn. "We are everywhere even flash mob or something like that. That's why they want to catch all the leaders they got our prime minister and put them somewhere we don't know but Sombat he is the one who got away."

In addition to Sombat, the military has summoned and detained journalists and academics, as well as political leaders opposing the coup.

Coup leader and army chief general Prayuth Chan-ocha says he hopes military rule will bring an end to Thailand's protracted political crisis, which saw the democratically elected government and the opposition unable to reach a compromise, and resulted in months of demonstrations that paralyzed the capital.

Deputy army spokesperson Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak says the army will relinquish administrative control over the country once it has solved its problems.

"Security and peace and order. Peace and order, people in the country become harmony and it has to be sustainable peace and order not just temporarily and after that we will proceed further with talking about election," said Weerachon. "But for the time being we have to fix all the problems of this country particularly with the fundamental problems."

The spokesperson promised detained political leaders would be released once order had returned to the streets, but did not specify what would happen to other detainees.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is political analyst and former diplomat among those summoned by the junta. But he says he did not respond because he does not recognize the legitimacy of the coup. He says the summons are a breach against academic freedom and an attempt at intimidation.

"This is the 19th military coup, the fact that they started [to] harass academics this is something quite new the first thing to do is for them to try to control what kind of message that many people would be sending across," he said. "I think academic could pose as a potential threat to the power position of the coup-makers."

He believes the process of summoning outspoken people with the looming threat of future prosecution under martial law or the lese majeste law undermines the legitimacy of the coup. Pavin says it will only encourage critics of the military regime.
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