Thai officials close 13 radio stations, detain staff

Bangkok, April 27, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemns the closure by government authorities of at least 13 community radio stations in Thailand and calls on the government to cease its campaign of harassment against opposition-aligned media immediately.

On Tuesday, security officials led by the military’s Internal Security Operations Command raided stations, seized their equipment and arrested at least three station hosts and operators in Bangkok and surrounding provinces, according to local and international news reports.

Lek Suphan, a host at 105.75 MHz Ruam Jai Thai, was arrested by police in Bangkok’s Lat Phrao area. Her status was unclear as of Wednesday. Two other station operators based in Pathum Thani province outside of Bangkok were detained and released on bail the same day after questioning, according to local reports.

Most of the sanctioned stations are openly aligned with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) anti-government protest group and were charged with broadcasting without proper operating licenses, according to the reports.

The raids come in the context of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s promise to hold early elections in June or July. Thailand’s increasingly assertive military, which played the lead role in Tuesday’s raids, is believed to be opposed to Abhisit’s poll plan.

“The Thai government claims to be moving toward free and fair elections yet continues to harass opposition-aligned media,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia Representative.  “We call upon Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to reaffirm his government’s commitment to press freedom by allowing all media to publish and broadcast without fear of reprisal.”

All 13 of the sanctioned stations were issued court warrants which claimed they broadcast live a speech by UDD protest group leader and opposition politician Jatuporn Prompan which was allegedly critical of the Thai monarchy. 

Jatuporn and two other UDD co-leaders face lese majeste charges over comments they made about the Thai royal family during an anti-government protest held on April 10 in Bangkok.  Lese majeste charges in Thailand carry possible 15 year prison terms for guilty convictions. It’s unclear if any of the 13 raided stations’ operators face potential lese majeste charges. 

National Police Chief Wichean Potephosree said without providing details that authorities planned to raid additional community radio stations in Pathum Thani, according to a Bangkok Post report.

Last year Abhisit’s government invoked an emergency decree to contain UDD protests in Bangkok that climaxed in armed clashes between demonstrators and state security forces and left 91 people dead, including two foreign journalists, Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto and Italian freelancer Fabio Polenghi. Authorities used the decree’s discretionary powers to clamp down on a wide array of UDD-aligned media, including extensive censorship of the Internet, for reasons of national security. CPJ highlighted Thailand’s harassment of partisan media in the 2010 edition of Attacks on the Press