WASHINGTON — The junta’s unchecked power, Computer Crimes Act cases, and weak labor unions have led Freedom House to rank Thailand as “not free” in its annual report on political rights and civil liberties around the world.
The international watchdog’s report “Democracy in Retreat: Freedom in the World 2019”, released on June 5, laments that the military government “has exercised unchecked powers granted by the constitution to restrict civil and political rights, and to suppress dissent.”
“More than 130 pro-democracy activists were charged with illegal assembly in 2018 for peacefully pressuring the government to lift restrictions on basic rights and hold long-promised elections,” the report notes.
The report emphasised the tightening grip of the junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), over online spaces of expression – citing as an example accusations that Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has violated the Computer Crimes Act.
“Under the draconian Computer-Related Crime Act, social media users continued to face arrest for sharing posts critical of the government in 2018. In June, authorities issued an arrest warrant for Watana Ebbage, an activist based in London, for her Facebook posts on corruption in the military. After the issuance of Ebbage’s arrest warrant, 29 Facebook users were arrested for sharing her posts,” the report stated.
On labor rights, the report observed that civil servants and temporary workers do not have the right to form unions.
“Less than 2 per cent of the total workforce is unionized. Anti-union discrimination in the private sector is common, and legal protections for union members are weak and poorly enforced,” the report said.
“Freedom in the World 2019”, though noting that the junta partially lifted the ban on political activities in September, did not comment on the aftermath of the March 2019 election.
Busadee Santipitaks, spokeswoman of the Foreign Ministry, said on Tuesday that most of the data in the report is “outdated.”
Thailand’s “not free” classification places it in the same league as 23 percent of the 209 countries surveyed by Freedom House, including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, as well as neighboring Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Brunei.
Thailand’s rating lags behind other ASEAN states including Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines, which are all classified as partly free. The rubric is divided into free, partly-free and not free.