Web censorship and a compliant media are allowing the Thai government to turn the country into a police state, says Giles Ji Ungpakorn
The military-backed government of Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency and increased blanket censorship of the news in April 2010.
The only independent internet newspaper, Prachatai, was blocked and previously the web manager was charged under the draconian computer crimes law. She faces 50 years in prison, if found guilty. The only opposition satellite TV station was occupied by armed troops andits signal cut. The army has been trying to block and interfere with alternative media sources based outside the country. ABC TV had to remove its journalist from Bangkok before screening a documentary about the Thai monarchy in Australia, for fear of falling foul of the lese majeste law. Thailand is beginning to resemble a police state.
After the recent bloodshed on the streets of Bangkok, the army, the government, and the media, academics and NGOs who have sided with the royalist elites, especially those who claim to be “neutral”, are all trying to distort the facts of what is happening in Thailand. The government has made it illegal for citizens to post any comments or video clips about the 10 April military crackdown. In this day and age total blanket censorship is unachievable. But what makes some censorship possible is the cooperation of the media, academics and local NGOs in distorting the truth.
The basic fact about the 10 April bloodbath, which resulted in at least 24 deaths, is that the government sent soldiers armed with M16 automatic weapons, live ammunition and tanks, to disperse a peaceful and disciplined Red Shirt demonstration. It had therefore already prepared itself to have the option available of using lethal force against the demonstrators. In the last 40 years the Thai elites have gunned down unarmed civilian demonstrations 6 times. Five of these bloodbaths occurred in Bangkok in 1973, 1976, 1992, 2009 and now in 2010. The sixth occasion was in the South at Takbai in 2004.
The April events raise the question about “neutrality” in the media and among social movements and NGOs. Is it even-handed and neutral to equate the Red Shirt protesters with the military-installed government that ordered armed troops on to the streets? The so-called “neutral” academics and NGOs, who claim that “both sides should take responsibility for the bloodshed”, are merely reducing the responsibility of the government. Surely, neutrality also involves objective analysis using basic standards of human rights, Democracy and social justice. Criticising government brutality against civilians does not mean siding with Red Shirt aims.
The Abhisit Goverment was never democratically elected. It is in power because of a military coup in 2006, two judiciary coups, the PAD violence and the manoeuvrings of the military. Abhisit’s Democrat Party can never hope to win an overall majority in any future election and in the past it has never won such an election. It can only cling to power by the use of the military and blanket censorship. So the Red Shirt demand for the government to resign and for immediate democratic elections is legitimate. There are many people who say that democratic elections will not solve the crisis. They are probably right. Many of the elites, the military, the royalists, the middle classes, the PAD, the academics, the NGOs and the Democrat Party are not committed to respecting the majority vote and democracy. They firmly believe, like all supporters of dictatorships, that the Thai electorate is “unqualified to be given a free vote”. This is all conveniently “forgotten” or missed out in mainstream Thai news reports.
There cannot be any real democracy unless there is total freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. But to get this we have to cut down the army to size. We must retire all the top generals, cut the budget, take the military out of controlling the media and drastically cut the size of the military. Those responsible for human rights abuses should be punished and the draconian lese majeste and computer crimes laws (pdf) must be abolished.
Despite the repression and censorship, most Thai citizens have worked hard to find ways to receive alternative news and analysis. The Red Shirts are resolute in their fight for democracy. The Abhisit Government should resign now. The military must return to barracks and the people should decide the future of Thai society.