October 5, 2006
His Excellency Gen. Surayud Chulanont
Office of the Prime Minister
Royal Government of Thailand
Via facsimile: 011-662-629-8213
The Committee to Protect Journalists urgently calls on your interim government to quickly and unconditionally restore provisions guaranteeing press freedom that were enshrined in your country’s recently abolished 1997 constitution.
We were alarmed to see that the interim constitution promulgated on October 1 by the military authorities who put you in power–the Council for Democratic Reform (CDR)–failed to include Articles 39, 40, and 41 of the previous constitution, which broadly protected press freedom. The interim charter’s failure to guarantee press freedom raises grave doubts about your government’s intentions as it oversees the drafting of a new, permanent constitution.
The removal of constitutional press freedom guarantees is the most serious of several CDR actions that have undermined Thailand’s strong tradition of press freedom. Those actions include:
• The CDR has positioned armed soldiers in local television newsrooms with orders to censor footage of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The government continues to censor CNN and BBC news coverage of the former premier.
• The CDR has ordered the closure of an estimated 400 community radio stations across the country’s northern and northeastern regions.
• The CDR has banned politically oriented call-in radio programs, blocked Web sites that posted commentary critical of its authority, and censored Internet-based chat rooms that critically discussed the military coup makers.
• The CDR has issued a decree calling on journalists to report only “constructively” about its administration and has reserved the right to censor any news reports it deems to be threats to national unity.
• On September 23, Maj. Gen. Thaweep Netniyan, a spokesman for the group that led the coup, threatened to take action against unnamed foreign correspondents and news organizations that allegedly insulted the monarchy with their coverage of the coup and its aftermath. He ordered the Foreign Ministry to follow up on the charges–which, if construed as lese majeste, could carry punishment of up to 15 years in prison.
Many of the restrictions now in place bear disturbing resemblance to those used by anti-democratic regimes such as Vietnam, Laos, and Burma. They are glaringly inconsistent with your country’s strong tradition of press freedom and your interim government’s stated commitment to rapidly restore democracy–which many of your key international allies have urgently sought. One of the most important signals your government could send to the international community–as well as your domestic constituents–would be the promotion and protection of press freedom.
As an independent, nongovernmental organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, we strongly urge you to lift all current restrictions imposed on the Thai media and in the spirit of democratic national reconciliation allow for all journalists to do their jobs free of intimidation, harassment, and censorship.
We also urge you restore and strengthen the press freedom guarantees that were contained in the 1997 constitution. Press freedom is an essential component in any democracy, and a constitution that fails to guarantee and protect this most basic right would be an affront to Thai citizens who are justly proud of their country’s vigorous press.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We eagerly await your positive response.