18 November 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is gravely troubled by the government’s actions against one of the most outspoken media personalities in Thailand, warning against a growing intolerance for criticism and heavy-handed actions that amount to severe intimidation of the press in general.
In the last two months, SEAPA noted that “multiple branches of government have gotten into the act of pushing back one of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s staunchest critics. The military, the state broadcasting authorities, and the Prime Minister himself have one by one told this government critic to quiet down or else.”
“When the Prime Minister cannot take criticisms and questions, society should be disappointed. When so many different branches of government line up behind that same Prime Minister to silence one man, society should be alarmed,” SEAPA Executive Director Roby Alampay said. “This has implications far beyond one man’s ability to irritate the Prime Minister. Ultimately, it deals with people’s right to free speech, and to enjoy a free press.”
On 17 November, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra filed a civil lawsuit against Sondhi Limthongkul, an aggressive critic of the Thaksin government and the founder of Manager Media Group. Sondhi and nine other co-defendants were sued by the Prime Minister after Manager Media Group’s publications and websites published commentary questioning the Thaksin family’s concession to operate a satellite company. Thaksin is seeking 1 billion baht (US$25 million) in damages.
It was the third lawsuit Sondhi and his affiliated companies were served in two months. The other two lawsuits were slapped after Sondhi took his weekly political talk program, Thailand Daily, to the streets. The talk show was originally broadcast by the state-controlled Channel 9 network, but it was taken off the air in mid-September. Sondhi took the show to VCDs and to his own ASTV television operations, but government reportedly pressured private cable networks not to carry the show.
On the same day , a Thai civil court also ordered Sondhi to refrain from making any more criticisms of the Prime Minister, pending the resolution of the defamation cases filed against him. Hearings for that case do not begin until February 8 of next year.
Meanwhile, Thai military leaders have served their own warnings to the government critic, saying his attacks on the Prime Minister are also unnecessarily dragging the King’s name into controversy. Sondhi had suggested on his programs that the Prime Minister had abused the king’s prerogatives in appointing a religious leader. In the latest episode, he suggested Thaksin might commit lese majesties for presiding over a national merit-making ceremony in the main chapel of Temple of Emerald Buddha in April.
On top of it all, SEAPA noted reports circulating in Thailand the government has also been seeking to block access to the website of Manager Daily.