Thai military detains journalist and his lawyer

New York, May 27, 2014–Military authorities in Thailand should immediately release a local journalist who was taken into military custody on Sunday after being summoned for questioning, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Military authorities have summoned and detained dozens of politicians, political activists, and outspoken academics following the military’s seizure of power from Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan’s caretaker administration on May 22, The Associated Press reported. Most of the detainees are accused of being associated with the ousted government, the report said. In the roundup over the weekend, at least 35 individuals, including at least one journalist, were summoned for questioning. Many have been detained, according to reports.

On Saturday, Pravit Rojanaphruk, columnist for the English-language daily The Nation, was summoned by the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council, Agence France-Presse reported. He and his lawyer were detained when they responded to the summons the next day, the reports said. Their whereabouts are unknown, according to local reports. No charges have been disclosed.

Pravit has written stories criticizing Thailand’s lèse majesté law for several years, reports said and has been critical of the recent coup. On Monday, Thailand’s military leader, Army Commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha, was endorsed by the royal family, which is seen as instrumental in legitimizing power, reports said. Lèse majesté laws, which shield Thailand’s royal family from criticism, carry prison penalties of up to 15 years.

“Journalists are vital to the flow of information, particularly during this time of political upheaval,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “It’s not the army’s job to decide what news organizations can publish. The detention of Pravit Rojanaphruk sends a chilling message, which must not stand. He should be released immediately.”

On Tuesday, Thai military authorities summoned two journalists for questioning, accusing them of asking Gen. Prayuth “inappropriate” questions in a news conference, according to reports. The journalists, who were only identified in news reports as working for Thairath and Bangkok Post, were not detained.

On May 22, military officers detained Wanchai Tantiwitthayapithak, deputy director of Thailand Public Broadcasting Service, after he aired news on YouTube despite military orders not to broadcast. Wanchai was later released, according to local reports.