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I have been detained and banned from travelling abroad for challenging militarisation. Those who refuse to kowtow to Thailand’s junta are paying the price

Deep down, Thailand’s military junta leaders are probably aware that they are illegitimate. They’ve become increasingly paranoid and repressive in their crackdown against any form of resistance – both online and offline.

On 30 March, the self-styled National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), or the Thai junta that staged a coup on 22 May 2014 and robbed the rights of millions of voters, told me on the phone that they would not permit me to travel to Helsinki to attend the Unesco-organised World Press Freedom Day.
One of the junta spokesmen was reported explaining the reason for this ban. “He still keeps posting [online] and attacking the work of the NCPO,” Colonel Piyapong Klinpan was quoted as saying. “He keeps violating the orders of the NCPO in many ways, so his travel is not approved.”
The right to freely travel outside Thailand has been taken away from me since I was detained without charge in secret locations for a total of 10 days in May 2014 and September last year. Before being released I had to sign, under duress, a “memorandum of understanding” saying that I would seek the junta’s permission before leaving the kingdom.
Other conditions included agreeing not to participate, aid or lead an anti-junta movement. If I did not maintain these conditions, the junta reserved the right to freeze all my bank accounts and prosecute me.
Nothing in the agreement forbids me from scrutinising and criticising the military dictatorship and this is the one condition I will never sign up to. And I have been criticising them continually for nearly two years now since the coup, both through my work as a journalist and on Facebook and Twitter.
This is what happens to a Thai journalist when you refuse to pretend that the military junta is legitimate.
As I write, the junta is preparing what it calls “re-education camps” for dissidents and journalists who continue to refuse to kowtow to them. It will soon invite its critics, both political and in the media, to go through a course that could last seven days inside various military camps. The camps are about silencing. If one doesn’t want to be on the list, one simply should just lie low and stop being vocal against the regime.
Thailand’s military dictatorship is led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who once joked that journalists opposing him should just be executed. He is both junta leader and prime minister. Prayuth’s logic is that he doesn’t have to please anyone because, unlike elected politicians, he was never elected. His way of keeping peace and order is to impose a ban on political gatherings of five or more persons. This ban has been in effect for nearly two years.
According to iLaw, a Bangkok-based human rights documentation centre, since the coup in May 2014, 900 people have been summoned by the junta for the “attitude adjustment” programme, which in some cases include detention without charge for up to seven days. Over 150 civilians are facing military tribunal, 62 are being charged with lese-majesty offences, 38 charged with sedition and 85 prosecuted for violating the junta’s ban on political gathering of five or more persons.
I am not alone in resisting the militarisation of Thailand. Others who refused to shut up have paid their price and more will be paying the price. Some face military tribunals, others have had their bank accounts frozen. There are people whose passports have been revoked.
There are still people making their voices heard on social media despite the growing crackdown and the junta is toying with the idea of building a firewall to censor the internet – because the yearning for liberty is what makes us human as opposed to being pets of a military dictatorship.
Deep down, the junta knows that its power rests not on legitimacy but on the barrel of guns and the threat of arbitrary detention that is increasingly turning Thailand to Juntaland.


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