Constitutional Court Agrees to Review Repressive Referendum Law

The Election Commission unveiled a mascot May 25 to encourage voters to turn out for the Aug. 7 referendum on the junta-backed constitution draft.

BANGKOK — The Constitutional Court agreed Wednesday to review the law which effectively banned any kind of campaigning for the upcoming vote on the new constitution.

The decision by the court means the fate of the Aug. 7 referendum is now uncertain, as junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha has also threatened the poll may be canceled altogether should the court void the law.

The Constitutional Court announced it will convene to determine whether the law, passed in April and known as the Constitution Referendum Act, violates freedom of expression as alleged by the activists which brought the challenge.

In contention is Section 61 of the Act, which forbids any dissemination of “text, images, sounds,” whether in print or online, that “deviates from the facts or contains manners that are violent, aggressive, rude, inciting or intimidating.” Violators face up to 10 years in prison and a 200,000 baht fine.

As the drafter and enforcer of the law, the interim parliament and the Election Commission were ordered to submit written testimony to the court by June 15.

On May 10, activists from Internet Law Reform Dialogue, a legal reform advocacy group, filed the complaint against the referendum law with the Office of Ombudsman, asking it to forward the case to the Constitutional Court. The Ombudsman did so June 1, leading to the court’s announcement Wednesday.

Critics of the junta-backed draft charter said the law has been aggressively enforced to silence their views. Some activists have said they will boycott the upcoming referendum to protest the restrictions.

If the court decides to strike down the referendum law, Gen. Prayuth told reporters June 2 he may just cancel the whole thing.

“Whatever the result says, we will accept it,” the junta chairman said. “If it violates [the interim constitution] we will have to postpone the vote. I don’t mind. But if it’s really postponed, don’t accuse me of ordering the postponement.”

 

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