19 July 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
BANGKOK– Thai media and civil rights groups are up in arms over a government decree granting emergency powers to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The decree—passed by the Cabinet on 15 July and subsequently endorsed by the King—ostensibly gives the prime minister more options to decisively deal with escalating violence in the kingdom’s southern provinces. It also gives Thaksin the power to, among other things, enforce arrests, detain persons without charges, tap into phone and email conversations, and censor the news.
Editors and journalist from more than 30 Thai media organizations as well as representatives of media advocacy groups expressed concerns that the emergency measures would trample human and civil rights of Thais. In particular, the Thai journalists said provisions for censorship would violate constitutional rights to freedom of expression and freedom of information. They called on the government to revoke the emergency decree as soon as possible.
Meeting on 19 July at the Thai Journalists Association (TJA)’s headquarters, the journalists zeroed in on one article in particular–Article 9– which empowers government to prevent the media from reporting on the southern situation.
The Thai media representatives said they shared the country’s concerns about the south—where more than 800 people been killed since the start of 2004, owing to a festering insurgency—but they stressed that muzzling the press was not a solution to the problem. They said the media should be allowed to carry out its duty and report and comment on the situation, and to ensure that government does not abuse its authority.
They strongly denounced the law, saying it gives an already powerful Prime Minister more power with even less check-and balance mechanisms.
The TJA compared the emergency decrees to draconian laws enacted by Thailand’s past military regimes.
The journalists also questioned the haste by which the law was passed by the Thaksin Cabinet.
“The enactment of this emergency decree will not solve but aggravate the problems beyond repair,” a joint statement emanating from the meeting said. The statement was issued on the behalf of the TJA, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, and the Southern Provincial Editors Association and the Press Council of Thailand.