Bangkok, July 7, 2011--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the raid and seizure of broadcasting equipment by police at six community radio stations in Thailand's northeastern Nakhon Ratchasima province. The raids were staged two days after caretaker Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government lost to the opposition Peua Thai party in general elections held on July 3.
Police and National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) officials justified the seizures on charges that the stations lacked proper operating licenses, according to local press reports. Two of the six partisan stations are affiliated with the royalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest group, while the other four others are aligned with the rival United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), according to the reports.
PAD activist Supot Piriyagiatdisakul told local reporters that he believed the raid was politically motivated and organized by officials wanting to please the new incoming Peua Thai-led government. The new coalition is expected to be led by Yingluck Shinawatra, who campaigned on a national reconciliation ticket and included several UDD activists on her party list.
"All sides to Thailand's political conflict have recognized the need for reconciliation. Allowing media of all political stripes to operate freely will be crucial to those efforts," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "CPJ calls on Thailand's incoming government to improve on the outgoing administration's poor record of press freedom and to refrain from taking revenge against opposition media."
CPJ highlighted Thailand's harassment of partisan media in the 2010 edition of Attacks on the Press. A government ban imposed on the use of social media to comment on candidates or political parties on the eve of and during the July 3 polls underscored the ongoing trend of repression against new media.
The outgoing Abhisit government cracked down hard on UDD-aligned media, including an April 26 raid and closure of 13 pro-UDD community radio stations in Bangkok and surrounding areas. The drawn out process of establishing the NBTC led to a legal vacuum that successive Thai governments have exploited to shutter new broadcast media, including community radio and satellite television stations.
Violations of the ban were punishable by a possible six months in prison and 10,000 baht (US$330) fine. Police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri told reporters that a special unit of over 100 police officers was created especially to monitor for violations and was empowered to censor sites.
Despite widespread use of Twitter and other social media to report on exit polls and preliminary vote counts on election day, there were no reported arrests or harassment arising from the ban.