Thailand’s military junta is bringing in legislation preventing the population from publicly debating the country’s upcoming referendum.Organizing panel discussions about the referendum as well as wearing t-shirts with political slogans referring to the campaign could see Thais jailed for up to ten years.Thailand is voting on a military-backed constitution in August, but the new rules would make even attempts to discuss its pros and cons risky business.
The junta that seized power in a May 2014 coup has alreadythreatened to jail anyone campaigning for or against theconstitution, which critics say entrenches the military’spolitical influence.The 14 rules, which were issued by the Election Commissionand formally became law on Monday covers everything from public debate to campaign merchandise.
Under the regulations, Thais must express their opinions on the new constitution with ‘polite words … without distorting the facts’.’Rude, aggressive, or intimidating’ interviews with themedia are banned, as well as organising a panel discussion ‘withintent to incite political unrest’. Also forbidden are ‘T-shirts, pins and ribbons’ that encourage others to campaign leading up to the referendum on August 7 this year.
Violators can be jailed for up to 10 years. Dissenters inmilitary-run Thailand often receive lengthy prison sentencesunder draconian laws on computer crime and royal defamation.The referendum will be a test of the junta’s popularity anda potential flashpoint in a turbulent political scene, sayanalysts. The military government has promised an election bymid-2017, even if the constitution is rejected.
Groups of all political stripes have denounced the draftconstitution as undemocratic, with one major political partyurging supporters to vote ‘no’.’To express opinions using reason. Is that so hard tounderstand?’ Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha snapped at areporter who asked about the new rules on Tuesday.
Prayuth has ruled largely unchallenged but anti-juntaactivists have recently staged small but frequent protests.Nine activists were jailed last week on charges of seditionand computer crimes. Two face additional charges of insultingthe monarchy.Phubed Pisanaka, a recent law graduate who comments on thegovernment on his Facebook account, said the rules would makehim more careful.
‘I have to think twice about what I post and share now,’ hesaid.Others remain defiant. ‘I’ll keep expressing my opinion even though I could becriminalized,’ said Kornkritch Somjittranukit,.’If thinking differently is a crime, living inside oroutside of jail is practically the same,’ he said.