By Mariyam Ahmad and Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Thailand’s military has filed a sedition complaint against a dozen opposition leaders, politicians, academics and others, accusing them of attempting to “incite turmoil” and “create chaos” while participating at a forum last month in the insurgency-hit Deep South.
Officials with the Internal Security Operations Command for Region 4 (ISOC-4), the military command that oversees the Deep South, lodged the complaint with police in Pattani province, where the discussions were held, Lt. Col. Kirati Triwai, a deputy investigator with the local police station.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the young leader of the Future Forward Party, and other prominent opposition leaders, politicians, and academics discussed potential solutions for ending the decades-old separatist conflict at the Sept. 28 forum.
Part of the discussions were reported to have touched on a sensitive section of the country’s constitution that defines Thailand as a “single and indivisible kingdom.”
“ISOC-4 filed a complaint yesterday and we are initially double-checking information regarding the complaint. Then we will issue summons,” Kirati said. “This is a new case and it takes time to find factual information.”
According to a police report obtained by BenarNews, those targeted in the complaint were said to have “delivered distorted information to people to incite turmoil, disobedience, create chaos in the Kingdom or stir public violation of laws.”
During the seminar, panelist Chalita Banthuwong, a social science professor at Kasetsart University in Bangkok, appeared to suggest that an amendment to the 2017-framed constitution, which was backed by a military government that ruled Thailand at the time, might help settle the conflict.
“The Deep South situation couldn’t be improved under this constitution … The government has three ways to solve the problems, by military and police force, livelihood development and promotion of multi-cultural society that should be handled by the non-security side,” Chalita told the forum, which was videotaped and disseminated on YouTube and Facebook.
“[We] see that the attempt for solutions is conducted under the complete jurisdiction of the armed forces. It shouldn’t have been that way, but the military has all the power and roles in every aspect,” she added.
In 2015, Thailand’s then-military government opened Malaysia-brokered peace talks with southern rebels aimed at settling the conflict, which has killed nearly 7,000 people since it reignited 15 years ago in the mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South.
The talks, however, have achieved no breakthroughs yet. Last week, Thailand’s recently elected government said it had appointed a new chief negotiator.
“[T]he solutions to the problems in Thailand don’t need to rely on a single state or a centralized state. If the constitution is amended, it is not wrong to amend Section 1 as well,” Chalita told the forum as part of the discussion on the Deep South.
She was referring to the section stipulating that Thailand is a “single and indivisible kingdom.”
BenarNews could not reach Chalita, who was named in the complaint, for comment on Friday. A fellow panelist defended her, suggesting that the academic was not necessarily endorsing a constitutional amendment.
“She said Section 1 can be reviewed or it can be discussed but she didn’t outright call for an amendment,” Rukchart Suwan, chairman of Buddhists for Peace, a local NGO, told BenarNews. “I myself don’t agree, if someone wants to change the article.”
Apart from Thanathorn, the four other politicians listed in the complaint are: Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, leader of the Prachachart Party; Sompong Amornwiwat, leader of the Pheu Thai Party; Songkram Kijlertpairoj; leader of the Pheu Chart Party; and Nikom Boonwiset, leader of Thai People’s Power Party.
Deputy PM: Not a government order
In Bangkok, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan denied that the government had instructed ISOC-4 to file the complaint.
“It is the matter of ISOC-4. The government has nothing to do with it,” Prawit told reporters.
In response to the complaint, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, secretary-general of the Future Forward Party, said the government, which includes former generals who were part of a junta that seized power in a 2014 coup, was muffling the voice of activists campaigning for amendments to the constitution.
“We political parties reaffirmed that we are sincere in [the] attempt to amend the constitution for the better,” Piyabutr said.
Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, the Prachachart Party leader who hails from the Deep South, said that the opposition, in pressing for amending the constitution, “will not touch on articles concerning the nation’s sovereignty and the monarch.”
“But we seek change in the selection of senators and the creation of independent institutions,” he said, referring to clauses in the constitution that, among other things, gave the junta power to appoint members of the 250-seat Senate after the March 2019 general election.
Nontarat Phaicharoen contributed to this report from Bangkok.