On the surface, the lifting of the travel ban previously placed on activists and politicians by the military junta should be welcome news. However, deeper beneath the surface, the way the process was conducted, revealed a disturbing normalization of the use of arbitrary and autocratic powers.
Why rejoice in the junta’s arbitrary use of powers in returning the right to travel abroad to some citizens, whom were robbed of that two years ago?
The right to travel abroad is a fundamental and inalienable right of every citizen but for 155 individuals, this writer included, it was snatched away by the junta soon after the May 2014 coup.
To be grateful that they will now restore this right to some would be tantamount to accepting that the right to travel abroad doesn’t belong to the people but to a military dictatorship.
In lifting the ban, junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha used the absolute power provided to him under Article 44 of the provisional military charter.
Prayuth and his men denied the timing of the removal of the ban has anything to do with growing international pressure, including a recent review of Thailand’s human rights situation at the United Nations in Geneva last month.
The whole thing is arbitrary because it’s all up to the whim of junta leader Prayuth and he offered no apology or even a sense of contrition. Prayuth, ironically, enjoys flying abroad representing Juntaland.
Those who shut their mouths were granted permission by the junta to travel abroad while persistent critics of the regime end up being denied the right to travel.
(The junta denied me my right to travel to Helsinki in May to an event co-organized by UNESCO to mark World Press Freedom Day. This led to a firm expression of disappointment by the Finnish Ambassador to Thailand, a Finnish representative raising the issue during the UN’s human rights review on Thailand and actions taken by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders which condemned the junta. I am grateful to all.)
Autocratic and arbitrary powers have been used repeatedly over the past two years to a point where to some it may already seem ‘normal’. Some are getting used to having the junta deciding who should have their basic rights taken away. Junta-supporters went as far as to explicitly defend such repression as sound and normal.
To give another example, Prayuth keeps arbitrarily changing his positions: After repeatedly saying he will stick to his roadmap to return democracy by holding elections next year, Prayuth on Wednesday publicly threatened to stay on until there’s ‘peace’.
To accept such practises as normal would be a big step backward for rights and liberties in Thailand. The only way to resist this downward spiral is to refuse to accept these violations and infringements as normal, resist and denounce them.
Many rights are still being curtailed, most visibly the right of freedom of political assembly of five or more persons which applies to all. The ban on political parties holding meetings is also still in place.
Some like former Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang and exiled dissidents have had their passports revoked simply because they are against the coup makers.
A few, including Chaturon and pro-democracy activist Sombat Boonngam-anong,have had to endure the freezing of their bank accounts for two years now.
Dozens who fled abroad and refused to report themselves when summoned by the junta cannot return home without facing charges and being put on military tribunal. The junta continues to maintain its dictatorial power to summon and detain anyone without charge for up to seven days.
Even though the 155 people will no longer have to seek ‘permission’ from the National Council for Peace and Order, we are still bound by ‘agreements’ that we shall not participate, aid or lead any anti-junta movement.
The punishment for violating such terms is to face a court martial with a two year maximum imprisonment term and a freezing of financial transactions.
Thailand is far from being ‘normal’ and to mentally normalize these abnormalities under military rule is not just wrong but abnormal for any freedom-loving people.
This is not a time to be grateful to the military dictatorship but a time to continue to call spade a spade – to call a junta a junta.
Resistance begins at the mental level for it informs people what is acceptable and what is not.