News / Asia

    Thai Police General Offers Cash for Snapshots of Dissidents

    Thai policemen arrest an anti-coup protester (C) during a demonstration at a shopping mall in Bangkok, June 22, 2014.
    Thai policemen arrest an anti-coup protester (C) during a demonstration at a shopping mall in Bangkok, June 22, 2014.
    Thailand’s police force is now asking for citizens’ help in identifying those perceived to be displaying opposition to the military coup in the kingdom. 
     
    A Thai police general has announced he will give cash rewards to those turning in photos or videos of anyone illegally expressing a political stance.

    Human expression outlawed

    Political gatherings of more than five people and comments, including those posted on social media, expressing opinions that could incite unrest are banned under martial law.

    Authorities have been detaining students and others who, in public, have engaged in seemingly mundane activities such as eating sandwiches, wearing T-shirts with slogans, reading the George Orwell novel “1984” or making a three-fingered gesture popularized in the movie, “The Hunger Games.”

    Deputy police commissioner General Somyot Poompanmoung has announced rewards of about $15 for each picture of such suspects.  The police general said he will personally pay the reward for any photographs that result in charges.

    A long-time observer of Thai history and politics, Tyrell Haberkorn, a fellow in political and social change at the Australian National University, calls this dismaying.  She terms it an assault on human expression, going beyond the political realm.

    “The line of what is considered criminal is shifting with every day, but also marks an incredibly concerning move because it is in a sense a request for citizens to become vigilantes,” she said.

    Junta, ruling power

    Under martial law, the military has the right to try those arrested, and the decisions of the military courts will be final, according to the junta.  

    Haberkorn said the international community should be paying close attention to the alarming developments affecting Thailand’s judiciary. “That there is no appeal in the military court is very, very concerning given what seems to be the ease with which peaceful activists have been charged with very grave crimes against the crown and state.  I am most concerned about what is going to happen if and when those proceedings begin,” she added.

    Such organizations as the Asian Human Right Commission, for which Haberkorn is an advisor, and Amnesty International have condemned the junta’s scrapping of civil courts as illegal under international human rights law.

    A military court Monday approved arrests warrants for 28 people, including a former Cabinet minister and dissident in exile, Jakrapob Penkair.  There could be more arrests Tuesday.

    Police general Somyot said his officers are prepared to deal with possible protests that might occur in Bangkok to mark the anniversary of the June 24, 1932 Siamese Revolution.  That coup ended the era of absolute monarchy and resulted in the kingdom’s first Constitution.

    Thailand has no constitution.  It was abrogated by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief, who has assumed all executive and legislative powers since carrying out the May 22 coup.

    The junta, official known as the National Council for Peace and Order, since ousting the civilian government has summoned hundreds of people to turn themselves in.  After spending days or weeks in detention, most have been released after pledging not to engage in political activity or leave the country.

    General Prayuth has said it will take about 15 months of reforms before elections could again be held.

    An NCPO spokesman, army Colonel Werachon Sukondhapatipak, told VOA in an interview last month that a primary goal of the military takeover is to permanently eradicate the political influence of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.  The billionaire telecommunications mogul was deposed in the country’s previous coup in 2006.

    Another junta spokesman, army Colonel Wintai Suvaree, rebuts a front page story in Monday’s Bangkok Post that General Prayuth had been actively plotting since 2010 to overthrow Thailand’s democratically elected government.

    Military takeover

    A leader against that government, a former deputy prime minister, Suthep Thaugsuban, was quoted in the article as telling supporters at a Saturday night banquet in the capital that he had been advising the general for several years about how to unset the administration of then prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

    Yingluck, who is Thaksin’s sister, was removed from office after a May 7 judicial ruling that she had abused her power.

    General Prayuth imposed martial law on May 19 and then carried out a bloodless coup three days later.

    The general has repeatedly said the intention of the military takeover is to bring back happiness to the people of Thailand.  He even penned the lyrics to a happiness song to reinforce that image.

    The country has suffered through years of political instability since a 2006 coup ousted Thaksin, who is in self-imposed exile. The party he backed won the 2011 general election, leading to Yingluck becoming prime minister.

    That came a year after the violent quelling of unrest by “Red Shirt” protesters, loyal to the Shinawatra family.  Suthep, at the time, was in charge of national security and Prayuth was the deputy commander in chief of the army.

    Suthep, an influential figure in the Democrat Party for decades, faces murder charges for allegedly ordering the 2010 crackdown in which more than 80 civilians died.  Suthep has termed the charges “politically motivated.”

    Rival protests in recent months before the imposition of martial law had resulted in occasional violence, with some deaths.

    Front page headlines Monday in Bangkok’s newspapers, which are operating under military censorship, trumpeted the results of an opinion poll conducted over the weekend by the National Institute of Development Administration showing a high approval rating for the military junta.

    The NIDA poll results also found that 41 percent of respondents want Prayuth to become the next prime minister.

    The army chief has issued dozens of decrees since the coup.  Some are seen as populist measures, such as capping fuel costs, freezing prices of consumer products, a crackdown on illegal parking and taxi mafias, broadcasts of World Cup soccer matches on free-to-air TV channels, free screenings of a historical movie and holding free concerts featuring military singers and musicians.  

    For millions of farmers in north, the political stronghold of Shinawatra-backed parties, Prayuth reinstated payments under a rice purchase program that had been accused of gross mismanagement by the administration of ousted prime minister Yingluck.

    The May 22 coup was the 19th successful or attempted putsch since the 1932 revolution.

    The United States and other countries have condemned the military takeover.  The U.S. State Department has called for the junta “to set a timeline for early elections and to facilitate an inclusive and transparent electoral process.”

    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    You May Like

    Video For Many US Veterans, the Vietnam War Continues

    More than 40 years after it ended, war in Vietnam and America’s role in it continue to provoke bitter debate, especially among those who fought in it

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    100 immigrants graduated Friday as US citizens in New York, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in cities across country

    Family's Fight Pays Off With Arlington Cemetery Burial Rights for WASPs

    Policy that allowed the Women Airforce Service Pilots veterans to receive burial rites at Arlington had been revoked in 2015

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora