CPJ calls on Thai prime minister to restore press freedom

September 23, 2019 12:29 PM ET

September 23, 2019

Prayuth Chan-ocha
Prime Minister
Royal Thai Government
Government House
Bangkok, Thailand

Via Facsimile: +662-280-1560

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent organization that advocates for press freedom worldwide, congratulates you on your recent parliamentary election as prime minister. As Thailand transitions to democracy, you and your elected administration have a historic opportunity to right the many wrongs committed against the press during your previous tenure as a coup-installed military leader. We urge you to fully restore press freedom in Thailand and ensure that journalists are able to report freely without fear of official reprisal.

Your administration’s move to abolish censorship directives, namely orders No. 97/2557 and No. 103/2557, is an important first step toward protecting freedom of expression and the press in Thailand. These vague and broad orders were imposed by the previous ruling junta to repress any reporting that could “lead to confusion, provoke conflict, or cause social division” or that was allegedly aimed to “discredit” the government. The orders resulted in widespread self-censorship at news organizations, and gave legal cover to the official harassment of journalists who reported critically on the former regime.

However, further action is needed. We urge you to use your authority as head of government to encourage state agencies to drop all pending legal complaints and cases filed against journalists and their news organizations under your military rule, and to end the use of “attitude adjustment” harassment against critics.

In particular, we urge your government to drop the pending sedition charges against Pravit Rojanaphruk, a reporter with the local Khaosod English website, who CPJ honored with its International Press Freedom Award in 2017 for his courage in reporting. The charges, each of which carry possible seven-year jail sentences, relate to Pravit’s critical commentary on Thailand’s military rule. Pravit recently told CPJ that these spurious complaints “continue to hang over my head.” As prime minister, you have the power and authority to fix that.

The previous government also singled out journalists such as Pravit for harassment, temporarily detaining him twice for so-called attitude adjustment sessions. We are troubled by reports quoting your deputy Wissanu Krea-ngam saying that your government will continue to use attitude adjustment harassment in the name of “peace and harmony.” These retaliatory behaviors against journalists and dissidents are unbecoming of a democratic society, and must stop.

More broadly, CPJ suggests that your government prioritize the amendment or abolishment of the 2016 Computer-Related Crime Act, which was adopted by the previous junta government’s rubberstamp parliament. This law gives authorities overbroad powers to restrict online expression, impose censorship, and enforce surveillance, and extends enforcement of the draconian lѐse majesté provision online. It is a danger to both journalists and citizens trying to access or comment on news developments, and should be either overhauled to explicitly protect free expression or scrapped altogether.

As Thailand’s newly elected leader, you can lend credibility to the country’s political transition by making clear that a free and independent press is essential to a democratic society. We urge you to seize this moment and end government-imposed censorship, take steps to lift legal cases against journalists, and ensure that journalists are able to do their jobs without fear of reprisal.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon

Executive Director

Committee to Protect Journalists

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