On social media Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk’s amused disobedience to his military-assigned “attitude adjusters” serves to make them look outdated and slightly ridiculous. But in reality the ex-senior reporter of The Nation has faced a systematic harassment that would silence most others.
Rojanaphruk is an outspoken critic of Thailand’s lèse majesté law, which bans any criticism of the monarchy, and one of the few voices still speaking against the military rule which has presided over Thailand since 2014.
“In Thailand, most people think of the beach, mountain, sand, sea and smiles,” he said to Index. “But the reality is that for those who disagree with the military regime, they are being repressed. They are under a dictatorship and find it still ongoing.”
Humour is a powerful tool for him, as is social media, he says, since it’s a lot harder to silence than traditional media.
“Social media is vibrant, it’s instantaneous and it’s widespread. There is no single centre.”
This is a frightening prospect for a military government trying to retain control, and his popularity on social media has gained Rojanaphruk the repeated attention of the junta.
“People kept retweeting or sharing my Facebook and they find it very disturbing. Particularly the fact that I am doing it bilingually. So they feel that right away it’s not just the Thai but the world would also care about what’s happening in Thailand.”
It was in response to a tweet that Rojanaphruk was in 2015 ‘summoned’ by the junta, and then detained for “presenting information that is not in keeping with the (junta) guidelines promoting peace and order”.
The tweet, posted in Thai and English, read “To me, General Prayut was no longer a general the day he staged the coup.”
He was forced to attend an “attitude adjustment” session. He described his confinement and interrogations later, where he was blindfolded and held in isolation in a 4-by-4 metre, airless cell.
He was released, then detained again a day later.
After his second detention his employer of 23 years, the English-language paper The Nation, quietly asked him to leave his position as senior reporter. Rojanaphruk tweeted his resignation, saying: “Thanks to The Nation for everything. After discussing with management I agreed to resign to save the paper from further pressure.”
But this did not slow Rojanaphruk down. He is now writing for Bangkok-based news site Khaosod English, and still getting in trouble with his attitude adjusters.
“They forced me to attend a meeting, but they gave me the choice of where. So I chose Starbucks. And I paid for them.”
He tweeted this incongruous meeting, the military junta dressed in cammo, drinking fruit smoothies.
“You don’t run away, you try to fight and do what you can to roll back repression, to roll back the trend against freedom of expression.”
His next self-appointed challenge is to take on the new junta-sponsored draft constitution.
When we spoke to Rojanaphruk, he had just posted three possible responses to the draft on Twitter and Facebook.
“I took three photographs. One with a thumbs up sign in front of the physical draft charter. Second one with a three finger, and the third one the middle finger,” he said.
“So they are very upset about my giving the middle finger.”
For this he would likely face further pressure, he said. But he refused to give in to censorship and to stop questioning the military rule that many others have now let slide.
“The battle is to defend this remaining freedom and as we speak, the physical freedom to assemble in public for any political gathering is already gone. Academic freedoms have been curbed,” he said.
“I think it’s an obligation to do something, to do whatever you can as a journalist to defend freedom of speech, freedom of expression. Not just for the media, for the society in general. And you think you, that by any chance well equipped to do something about it, you should give it a try.”