BASED on an observation by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Thai junta’s detention of Watana Muangsook for publicly opposing the draft constitution signals “a clear warning” that they are prepared to resort to intimidation and arrests to ensure that the upcoming referendum will go their way.
The international human rights group has urged the government to release Watana, a former government minister currently being held in military custody for supporting a ‘no’ vote in the referendum, which is being held to determine whether to adopt a new constitution and a military-appointed Senate.
Authorities from the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) arrested the ex-Pheu Thai MP on Monday, and later transferred him to a military facility in Kanchanaburi province.
Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan told local media that Watana was put under arrest for speaking out against the draft constitution.
“I have warned [Watana] that he will be taken in [to military custody] every time he speaks up. If he still doesn’t listen, we will do it again and again … Don’t tell voters whether you like the draft constitution or not,” he said.
Under NCPO Order 3/2558, the military has the power to keep a person in custody for up to seven days to prevent and suppress certain acts, which include lèse majesté (insulting the royal family), threats to national security, weapons offenses, and violations of NCPO orders.
Last month, Watana had already gotten on the wrong side of the military government for the exact same infraction, and was sent to an “attitude adjustment” session at a military camp. However, after being released, the recalcitrant politician refused to change his stance, leading to his current detention.
Prior to being arrested once again, Watana posted to his Facebook:
In an effort to seek international assistance for her father’s plight, Watana’s daughter has sent appeals to the European Union office and the U.S. embassy in Bangkok.
“Officers won’t tell me where they keep him and I’m worried about his safety,” she told the Bangkok Post.
HRW Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement on Wednesday that the junta has created “a climate of fear ahead of the constitutional referendum”, using intimidation in order to discourage any further expressions of differences in opinion.
“If people can’t debate a proposed constitution, then nothing is safe for public discussion.”
He added that the junta’s vow to “restore democratic rule and respect for human rights have proven meaningless.”
Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is also NCPO chairman, has made it clear that he will not tolerate any form of dissent, and warned those who do not agree with the junta’s draft constitution that they would be arrested and jailed for insubordination if they were to go public with their views.
In an interview on Tuesday, Prayuth said:
They have no rights to say that they disagree [with the draft constitution] … I don’t allow anyone to debate or hold a press conference about the draft constitution. Yet they still disobey my orders. They will be arrested and jailed for 10 years. No one will be exempted when the Referendum Act becomes effective [after announcement in the Royal Gazette]. Not even the media. Why don’t people respect the law instead of asking for democracy and human rights all the time?
In light of the impending referendum, which is set to take place on August 7, the HRW has expressed its concerns regarding the Thai government’s crackdown on its critics and the introduction of new oppressive laws.
According to the Referendum Act, which was passed by the National Legislative Assembly earlier this month, those found guilty of disseminating false information in newspapers, radio, television, electronic media, or any other means to influence voters’ decisions or disrupt the referendum are liable to be punished with a sentence of up to 10 years in jail under article 62 of the Act.
Since taking power in May 2014, the junta has been known to liberally interpret any criticisms or differing opinions from the status quo as a threat to national security, meting out punishments to those who refuse to fall in line.