Thai authorities are harassing and intimidating social critics for mocking Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha after he assumed the premiership for another term, Human Rights Watch said.
In three instances in June 2019, Thai security forces and other officials have pressured a foreign satirist, a well-known comedian, and high school students to retract or apologize for videos or photos on social media deemed to make fun of military dictatorship.
“The Thai junta obviously has no sense of humor since even the slightest ridicule can result in thuggish intimidation or threats of prosecution,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Prime Minister Prayuth is starting his second term with the same disregard for basic rights that characterized his first.”
On June 12, police officers went to the house of French national Yan Marchal in Bangkok and ordered him to post an apology on his Facebook page for his music video mocking the anthem of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta. Officers told Marchal to write a written promise that he would not do it again. Fearing possible prosecution and deportation, he also had to delete the parody clip, which had gone viral with more than one million views online, from all of his social media accounts. In addition, the authorities ordered him to sign a memorandum in which he admitted that making fun of the junta was an “improper act” that caused damage to the NCPO and the people of Thailand.
On June 11, Thai authorities pressed a famous comedian, Naphat Chumjittri (also known by his stage name King Gornbai), to tell his fans to delete a video clip, in which he mimicked Prime Minister Prayuth’s media interviews and joked about military rule.
The authorities have even targeted high school students for ridiculing the junta. On June 13, soldiers and police officers went to Chumpholphonphisai School in Nong Khai province and ordered students to delete all photos on their social media accounts about their Teacher’s Day activities, in which they made pedestal trays with satirical messages about military dictatorship and the junta’s manipulation of the general election to prolong Prime Minister Prayuth’s rule.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the independent expert body that monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified, has stated in a general comment on freedom of expression that:
“[T]he mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties…. Moreover, all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition. Accordingly, the Committee expresses concern regarding laws on such matters as … disrespect for authority … and the protection of the honor of public officials. [Governments] should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.”
The recent harassment of social critics reflects the broader suppression of freedom of expression and the media since the military coup in May 2014. Thai authorities have continually harassed, threatened, and prosecuted dissidents and other critics of the junta in violation of their fundamental rights. The failure of the police to arrest any suspects for recent violent attacks against prominent dissidents raises serious concerns about possible government involvement.
“Prime Minister Prayuth should order officials and security forces to immediately cease all actions to silence and punish peaceful critics,” Adams said. “Thailand’s friends should not let the recent elections become an excuse for ignoring the deteriorating rights situation in the country.”