In Thailand, cartoonist detained and warned he could be prosecuted

Bangkok, October 5, 2015–Authorities in Thailand briefly detained Sakda Sae Iao, a prominent editorial cartoonist with the local language Thai Rath newspaper, on Sunday and warned he could be prosecuted for his future work, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the harassment and calls on Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to end his military government’s intimidation campaign against journalists.

Sakda, known by his pen name “Sia,” told reporters he was questioned for about 90 minutes at the Royal Thai Army’s headquarters in Bangkok. The cartoonist said that military authorities claimed several of his cartoons, including one published on October 3 that satirized a speech Prayuth made at the United Nations General Assembly, in which the self-appointed leader stated his commitment to upholding human rights, were not factual, the reports said.

“Sakda Sae Iao’s editorial portraits have dared to speak truth to power in Thailand’s highly repressed media environment,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “The Thai junta’s claim to a monopoly on truth is as farcical as its claim to legitimacy. Sakda should be allowed to continue drawing his critical portraits without fear of reprisal.”

It is the second time since the military seized power in a May 2014 coup that Sakda has been summoned for what the junta refers to as attitude adjustment, according to news reports. The first was two weeks after the May 22 coup. Thailand’s junta, the National Council for Peace and Order, has sharply suppressed media criticism of its coup and heavy-handed rule. Authorities told Sakda he would not be punished for his existing drawings, but that he could be prosecuted if future caricatures are perceived to distort the truth, reports said.

Prayuth’s junta has recently ramped up its media repression. Newspaper reporter Pravit Rojanaphruk was held in military detention for three days last month over a tweet that authorities saw as critical of Prayuth and the coup, according to reports. Pravit was freed without charge but was required as a condition of his release to sign a form pledging not to become involved in any anti-junta activities or risk seizure of his personal assets, he told CPJ.