วันพุธ, ธันวาคม 16, 2558

US tells Thailand a return to democracy would boost ties - Freedom of speech reaches 'new low' in junta-ruled Thailand

By Grant Peck
The Associated Press
December 16, 2015

BANGKOK (AP) — The top U.S. diplomat for East Asian affairs said he told Thailand’s leaders Wednesday that democracy must be restored in the country for relations to flourish between the longtime allies.

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel met in Bangkok with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and other senior officials from Thailand, where U.S. concerns about human rights under the military government have strained bilateral ties.

Thailand’s army seized power in a May 2014 coup, and has limited freedom of expression. New elections are not expected until 2017 at the earliest.

“I had a chance to share with the prime minister some specific areas of our concern,” Russel said at a news conference. “He took those on board. I believe — and will report back to Washington — that I got a full and respectful hearing. I also, of course, listened carefully to the prime minister’s own description of the political situation and his roadmap to return the Kingdom of Thailand to a full democracy.”

The two nations also separately discussed areas in which they can cooperate, including public health, disaster relief and combating human trafficking, said Thai Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Apichart Chinwanno, who spoke jointly with Russel. He said the two countries had a “frank and candid discussion in a cordial atmosphere,” talking for almost six hours.

Both sides said after the meeting that they would try to strengthen ties that go back 182 years, but Russel stressed that Thailand would have to return to electoral democracy for their relationship to become fully productive.

“We care deeply about our relationship with Thailand, we care deeply about the Kingdom of Thailand, and want to continue to work together and to expand our cooperation in the years to come,” Russel said.

“We want to see — and I made this case very clear — we want to see Thailand be successful, and that includes a successful return to democracy which will allow us to more fully realize the extraordinary potential of this great relationship,” he added.

On Russel’s previous trip to Thailand, in January 2015, he criticized the junta’s curbs on democracy and met with Yingluck Shinawatra, who had been forced to resign from the prime minister’s job shortly before the military ousted the government she had been leading.

Russel’s actions at that time set off a wave of criticism from the junta’s supporters that prompted some Thai media to brand the veteran diplomat an “ugly American.” The Thai government protested that he had “wounded the hearts of Thais.”

The recently arrived U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Glyn Davies, has also taken heat for criticizing the junta’s clampdown on dissent.

Police took up a complaint brought by hard-line royalists who accused Davies of defaming the monarchy after he voiced concern last month about long prison sentences under a law that criminalizes criticism of Thailand’s royal family.

Police appear unlikely to pursue an investigation against Davies, who has diplomatic immunity. But the adverse response he provoked, despite prefacing his remarks with praise of Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, underscored the disconnect that increasingly weighs on America’s oldest diplomatic relationship in Asia.


Freedom of speech reaches 'new low' in junta-ruled Thailand

Thanakorn Siripaiboon (2nd R) is escorted by police outside military court in Bangkok December 14, 2015

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
Via Yahoo News

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's military seized power last year with a promise to eventually restore democracy. But a crackdown against critics of the monarchy and junta suggest the country is locked on a darker trajectory, say U.N. officials and human rights activists.

On Sunday, a student was taken from hospital by plainclothes agents and charged with defaming Thailand's widely revered royalty.

On Monday, it emerged that a factory worker was charged with sedition and mocking King Bhumibol Adulyadej's dog. If found guilty, he faces decades in prison.

And on Tuesday, a military court sentenced a single mother to seven years in jail for posting material on the Internet insulting to the monarchy.

Human Rights Watch said the cases underscore how freedom of speech has reached a new low in the Southeast Asian country.

Since taking power in 2014, the military has made full use of Article 44 of the interim constitution which gives junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha absolute power to give any order deemed necessary to prevent acts seen as undermining national security.

It also allows soldiers to detain people for up to seven days without a court warrant.

Thanakorn Siripaiboon is escorted by police outside military court in Bangkok December 14, 2015

"The travesty of law enforcement under the junta's rule reached a new low when Thanakorn was charged with lese-majeste for ... comments that Thai authorities considered as mocking the king's dog," Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch told Reuters, referring to factory worker Thanakorn Siripaiboon, 27.


Junta spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree defended the royal insult law.

"We haven't used this law in a harsher manner but in this period there may have been more people who violated this law so authorities have to deal with them accordingly," Winthai told Reuters.

"We need this law in Thailand in order to protect the monarchy which is the love of all Thais," he said.

All this comes amid worries over the health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who turned 88 this month, and concerns over an eventual succession - a subject that cannot be openly discussed because of the lese-majeste law that makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen or heir apparent, but one that continues to dominate political developments in Thailand.

The king's son and heir, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, does not command the same level of devotion as his father.

Kan Yuenyong at the Siam Intelligence Unit think-tank said the military had become "quite sensitive" over any criticism and was anxious about what an eventual succession would bring.

"The transition is very fragile because there is serious fighting between different camps and stakeholders," he said. "Because of the power struggle, the military is quite sensitive over any criticism and they want to show that they are the ones who can wield power."

Diplomats and foreign journalists have also been caught up in the military crackdown on anyone perceived as critical of the junta or royal establishment.

On Tuesday, the Thai printer blocked publication of a report in the International New York Times on the king's dog defamation charges, the third time in a month that it has left a Thailand article blank, and the U.S. Ambassador to the country is being investigated over accusations he violated the strict lese-majeste law.

"The U.N. High Commissioner has stated he is appalled by the shockingly disproportionate prison terms handed down this year in lese-majeste cases in Thailand," the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told Reuters in an e-mail.

The office said prison terms handed down for lese-majeste this year were the heaviest recorded since 2006, when it began documenting cases of individuals prosecuted for lese-majeste offences.

(Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Editing by Andrew R.C. Marshall and Robert Birsel)