BANGKOK–The Southeast Asian Press Alliance expresses grave concern over the Thai government’s move to grant Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra absolute authority to handle the state of emergency in the South. In particular, SEAPA strongly denounces the executive decree which will give the Prime Minister the power to censor news, intercept telephone conversations, and detain people without charge.
Violence and unrest have been escalating in Thailand’s southern provinces since last year. In the past 18 months, more than 800 lives have been lost in riots, military clashes, and bombings in the region.
On 16 July, local newspaper reported that the government admitted the decree has been mulled over for some time but a bout of simultaneous attack on a town of Yala had prompted it to take the decree off the shelf.
Still, SEAPA said undermining people’s rights is not the answer.
“Giving the government this much unchecked power will be more dangerous than any problem they ostensibly want to address,” SEAPA executive director Roby Alampay said. SEAPA noted that the power to detain people without charge and to tap into phone conversation would likely violate Thai citizens’ human and civil rights.
Government officials insist that safeguards and limitations have been built into the proposed emergency powers to guard against abuse and to protect people’s human and civil rights. Officials noted, for example, that the decree will allow the detention of suspects only for a maximum of 30 days and only with court permission.
“But if the protection of civil rights really were an overriding concern, why seek powers to censor the news?” Alampay said. “A media that is free to observe and comment on the Southern problem is the only guard the Thai public will have against the potential abuse of any emergency power.”