The Thai military prohibited discussants at a public forum in Isaan, Thailand’s northeast, to talk about politics, referendum, and the lèse majesté law. The authorities however ironically allow them to talk about human right issues only.
On Friday, 8 July 2016, about 15 soldiers and police in uniforms and plainclothes led by Lt Col Phitakphon Chusri, unit leader of the junta’s so-called peace-keeping force in the Isaan province of Khon Kaen, intervened at a public forum titled ‘Freedom of Expression in Isaan’, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported.
The forum featured discussions on environmental justice and freedom of expression in Isaan, and was organised by the Isaan Record, an independent news website in the region, at the Khon Kaen Hotel.
The main discussants in the forum were Saowanee T. Alexander, a lecturer from the Faculty of Arts at Ubon Ratchathani University; Anon Chawalawan from iLaw, a human rights advocacy group; Pravit Rojanaphruk, a veteran journalist from Khaosod English; and Niran Pitakwachara, a former National Human Rights Commissioner.
Staffan Herrström, the Swedish Ambassador to Thailand, and officers from the Embassies of the UK and Canada also participated in a discussion about environmental justice at the forum.
According to TLHR, the discussion was allowed to go ahead, but the authorities told the organisers and the discussants that talks related to politics, Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law, and the upcoming referendum on the draft constitution will not be tolerated.
“We just want to warn them [the organisers] that if there’s any talk related to politics or Article 112, we cannot let them continue the event. Other topics are fine, but we would like to send some personnel to observe the discussion” Lt Col Phitakphon told media at the event.
The authorities said that those who violate the order might be prosecuted. They also informed the organisers that they will monitor and videotape the event, adding that some administrative officers of the province and legal staff of the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) will also observe it.
The Isaan Record said that they thanked the authorities for prohibiting the discussion in the ‘Freedom of Expression in Isaan’ forum as the attendees could clearly understand what the human rights situation in the area looks like, adding that the threat of prosecution clarifies that freedom of expression has already been absent from Thai society.
Lt Col Phitakphon Chusri speaks to media at the event (source: TLHR’s Facebook page)