We’re All to Blame When Freedom Slips Away

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha with members of his cabinet July 24 in Ubon Ratchathani province.
Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha with members of his cabinet July 24 in Ubon Ratchathani province.

Re•tention: Pravit RojanaphrukJunta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha threatening to punch someone in the mouth if he gets criticized is just the latest threat made by him and his military regime.

For over four years since the coup, the threats have included detention without charge – euphemistically called “attitude adjustment” – the use of sedition and the Computer Crime Act.

It’s also not just the press and general public under threat, but also political parties. The nascent Future Forward Party was charged Tuesday with violating the Computer Crime Act for posting “false information” online via two affiliated Facebook pages, one called The Future We Want and another for its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

While the alleged violations have yet to be disclosed, it’s well known that the party, particularly billionaire Thanathorn, opposes the junta and has repeatedly vowed to end the cycle of military coups once and for all.

On Wednesday, the party issued a statement which effectively declared the junta – formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order – as illegitimate.

“The NCPO is an organization that was formed as a result of a coup which stole power from the people,” read part of the statement released after the junta filed charges.

It would be wrong to say people have no freedom of expression under the junta. The truth is, they have all the freedom they want to praise Prayuth and his regime. However, once you call it illegitimate and oppose it, it’s another story. Another exception is the lese majeste law, which jails people for saying anything that may be deemed critical of the monarchy.

The majority of the Thai press does not cross the line to call the military regime illegitimate. Actually, they don’t even doubt whether the junta lacks legitimacy. Most of the Thai mass media, regards the military regime as similar to another elected administration.

Which is good for him, as the retired general seems unable to take much heat. As the dictator himself said July 23, when he complained of being “tormented” by criticism and threatened physical violence.

“Now, if someone criticizes me and it doesn’t sound good to my ears I will punch them in the mouth. I have my rights too,” Prayuth told people while visiting Ubon Ratchathani province last week.

But one should not blame just Prayuth and the junta for declining freedom of expression. As long as the press and public don’t value their freedom, it’s difficult to keep it.

For example, last Thursday saw a Channel 3 TV newscaster, Peerapol “Champ” Euariyakul, suspended from all programs after he criticized another dictator, Turkish president Recep Erdoğan, and was forced to personally apologize in person to the Turkish ambassador. Some in the public supported the move.

It seems freedom of expression and press freedoms are too quixotic and abstract to fight for – not to mention to die for.

We tend to get the society we deserve. When it comes to our freedoms, it may be the case that we don’t deserve much for we don’t care much.

Don’t just blame the junta.