Thai security option could be pretext for controlling press, too

1 December 2004

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) expresses grave concern over reports that the Thai government is mulling using laws and measures patterned after Singaporean and Malaysian internal security acts to preempt and counter expected violence in its troubled southern provinces.

The Nation, one of Bangkok’s leading English-language newspapers, on December 1 said the government of Thailand is considering “issuing a decree or legislation based upon the draconian internal security acts of Singapore and Malaysia that would permit the police to indefinitely hold suspects linked to the violence in the South”, even without benefit of any formal charges against the suspects.

As rights advocates in Thailand have expressed concern over such a measure’s potential to be abused, so too does SEAPA warn that it could also be used as a pretext to stifle press coverage and control information regarding developments in the South.

“In the past few weeks, The Nation and The Bangkok Post both reported incidents showing that the Thai government is already using any excuse to prevent journalists from doing their job in Thailand’s troubled south,”

SEAPA executive director Roby Alampay said. “It had been reported by The Nation that police harassed reporters into identifying a photographer who took a controversial and damning photo of a soldier firing into a crowd of protesters. The police also reportedly forced TV crews to surrender footage of demonstrations in the South. Then over the weekend, The Bangkok Post said a Malaysian TV crew was forced to surrender their own interviews with people in the troubled provinces.”

SEAPA challenged Thai leaders to qualify the reports that they are looking to Singapore and Malaysia to provide models on how to use the Southern situation as a pretext for giving the police and military sweeping powers.

Violence in Thailand’s southern provinces erupted earlier this year and has since claimed more than 500 lives. More than 80 Muslim protesters died on 25 October, after hours of chaos in Narathiwat’s Takbai district. Many died of suffocation after being packed and transported in military trucks.