An armed Thai soldier orders journalists to step back as a military vehicle enters the compound of the Army Club in Bangkok after the military staged a coup in May. Pic: AP.

By Lisa Gardner  

The Thai army has moved to downplay the significant curtailing of civil liberties, launching a PR rebranding of its tactics to “bring back happiness to the people.”

The junta put together a ‘public relations taskforce’, set to “create understanding among the people,” reported local news outlet Khao Sod

Some of those detained by the army were reportedly asked to think of it as “a vacation of sorts,” rather than military detention. Another was told to re-imagine these events as a “courteous coup,” according to Prachatai.

The junta has even staged ‘entertainment’ events offering  food, music, haircuts – even a pageant of saluting women, in army outfits – to win over Bangkokians. While it may be difficult for some to imagine what purpose such efforts could serve, for some, entertainment like these is said to offer a respite from Thailand’s complex politics.

In a show of the army’s strength, the entertainment was held at Victory Monument, which had previously been the site of small, nonviolent protests against the coup.

The army continues to show little tolerance for any display of anti-coup sentiment.

“Those who disagree with the NCPO’s ways are few, they affect the NCPO’s mission to return happiness to the country,” Army deputy spokesman Col Winthai Suwaree was quoted as saying.

Among those protesters who have faced arrest for minor acts of effrontery are: a man who had held up an A4 sign in downtown Bangkok which read: “The coup-makers fear A4 paper.”

Earlier in the week a woman was hustled screaming into a vehicle disguised as a regular ‘taxi’ by four plainclothes police-officers. Her crime? Holding up the three-fingered Hunger Games salute.

Tellingly, even those released have been warned not to speak publicly on any matters related to politics, lest they face further prosecution.

In return for political quiescence and the curbing of civil liberties, the junta claims to offer ‘stability’ of a kind. ‘Unhappiness,’ in this schema, serves as a rebuke to the dismantling of democracy and political paralysis, which the Army claims it first conducted the coup to avoid.

Yet the arrest of Sombat Boonngamanong has reaffirmed a sense of the junta’s own anxieties. His arrest, they hope, may yet weaken efforts and the will of anti-coup demonstrators to organize large-scale protest movements. What is yet to be seen is whether these arrests simply fuel the fire, encouraging broader and more frequent protests.

Should this happen, the army will need produce even greater efforts to ensure that the edifice of “happiness” prevail.