Media concerns as “dictator law” replaces martial law in Thailand

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), the National Press Council of Thailand, the Thai Broadcasting Journalists Association (TBJA) and the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand (NBCT) in expressing strong concern over the issuing of a new order by the military regime to replace martial law. The new order became effective on April 1.The IFJ joins Thai media in its objection to the order which will further cripple press freedom across the country.

On April 1, the NCPO issued Order No 3/2558 which invokes Section 44 of the Interim Constituion of the Kingdom of Thailand (2014), effectively replacing martial law which has been in place in the country since May 20, 2014 when the military took over in a coup d’état.

A joint statement issued by the TJA, the National Press Council of Thailand, the TBJA and NBCT on April 2 has expressed strong reservations for the broad articles under Section 44 that would ultimately empower authorities to conduct further actions at their own discretion.

The government of coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha has faced growing pressure from foreign governments, human rights groups and Thailand’s business community to remove martial law which was invoked 10 months ago after the country’s descent into political chaos.

Under Article 44, Prayuth has the power to make any order in the name of national security while some Thai media have referred to the new order as “the dictator law”. Human Rights Watch has described  the move as “Thailand’s deepening descent into dictatorship”.

Section 44 gives full powers to the head of the NCPO to respond to any act which undermines public peace and order or national security which means authorities have the power to ban any news report, sale and distribution of books, publications and other medium that the NCPO deem as a “security threat”. Any person not complying with the article will be punished with maximum of one year imprisonment, or a fine of 200,000 baht (USD 6,154) maximum, or both.

The IFJ said: “On outward appearance this gives the impression of a positive change in Thailand, but reading between the lines and certainly internally it will be business as usual for the military junta with strong ramifications on the country’s media and press freedom.”

The IFJ has closely monitored the disintegrating press freedom situation in Thailand since the military junta took power. In the days following the declaration of Martial Law in May 2014, several journalists were detained, while 100 websites, 15 television stations and numerous community radio stations were blocked. In the latter half of 2014, the military junta introduced order 103 and order 97. The orders prohibited any form of criticism towards the military junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and prohibited criticism towards military authorities respectively. In January this year, a media forum organized by the TJA and a german foundation was cancelled by the NCPO just days before it was due to launch a report on press freedom in the country.

“It is concerning that these new laws give unprecedented powers to the head of the military junta, who said only last week that “we’ll probably just execute them” when asked how it would deal with those journalists who do not adhere to the official line,” the IFJ said.

Unlike Martial Law which was invoked to justify the use of extraordinary powers for the military and suspension of civilian rule because of imminent danger to the state due to the threat of war or insurrection, Order 3/2558 has no time limit and therefore the government does not have to justify the laws internally or externally.

The joint statement by the Thai press organisations called on the NCPO to carefully consider the consequences from the use of section 44 that has already affected press freedom and the basic rights of the citizens of Thailand. The media groups also called on the military junta to develop clear guidelines for security authorities to conduct their duties under article 5.

The IFJ said: “Thailand’s press freedom has been on a downward spiral since the  implementation of Martial Law in 2014. The country’s media workers continue to face a plethora of challenges which are further hampered by the legal framework instilled by the military junta.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

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