BANGKOK — The practice of “attitude adjustment” will continue even after the junta is formally dissolved tomorrow, deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Monday.
Wissanu told reporters the power to detain people without warrants will continue to rest with the counter-insurgency agency operating under the Prime Minister’s Office, but won’t be invoked. Instead, Wissanu said, those who pose threats to national security or the monarchy will merely be questioned and warned.
“No [detention]. No. We’ll continue to invite people to be have [their attitude] adjusted. Well, we’ll make requests and say please don’t [do such actions]. But we can’t detain them,” Wissanu said on Monday afternoon. “It’s okay to retain such power, however, because it’s to oversee peace and order.”
He also offered a silver lining, “It’s better than declaring martial law.”
Wissanu’s remarks came after at least two political activists in Bangkok were visited and questioned by police on Monday, raising concerns among government critics that the authorities will continue to intimidate political opponents even after the regime ceases to formally exist tomorrow.
Although the junta will become defunct the moment the new cabinet takes its oath of office to His Majesty the King – scheduled to take place at 5pm on Tuesday – some of the regime’s controversial special orders will be retained under the succeeding government.
They include Orders 3/2014, 13/2015, and 5/2017 which allow designated military officers with rankings of no less than second lieutenant to detain people who are perceived as threats to national security, the monarchy, or who are “influential persons” without charge.
The forced detention, termed in junta euphemisms as “attitude adjustment,” can last as long as seven days in an undisclosed location with no visitation allowed. The measure has been routinely enforced since the 2014 coup to dissuade activists, politicians and even journalists from publicly challenging the junta’s rule.
Decisions to summon individuals for attitude adjustment after the junta is dissolved tomorrow will be made by the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), Wissanu said.
But adding to the confusion, a spokesman for ISOC insisted on Tuesday that the anti-insurgency agency has neither the authority nor mandate to summon people for attitude adjustment, because the junta never conferred such powers to the body.
“The NCPO has ceased to exist, but no powers were transferred to ISOC,” said Maj. Gen. Thanathip Sawangthep, using the NCPO’s acronym.
Thanathip added that Article 13/1 of the Security Act technically allows for provincial-level security committees under ISOC to invite people to provide information to security authorities. But calling such a measure “attitude adjustment” would be inaccurate, said Thanathip, since those invited would be neither interrogated nor detained.
“It’s the duty of the NCPO to clarify the whole thing,” Thanathip had said on Tuesday.
Yingcheep Atchanont, a coordinator at law reform advocacy group iLaw, said the authorities must clarify who will be responsible for authorizing attitude adjustment.
“Our preliminary demand is clarity,” said Yingcheep, who has organized a campaign to repeal the special laws enacted by the junta during its five years in power.
Despite support from opposition politicians for his campaign, Yingcheep has acknowledged that the repeals will be difficult to achieve because legislation of such scale would have to be approved by junta-appointed Senate.
According to iLaw’s database, at least 929 civilians have been summoned for attitude adjustment since the May 2014 coup, including those detained without charge for up to seven days.
In a farewell speech as the head of the soon-to-be-defunct junta, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha thanked the country for showing support to the regime over the past five years.
Gen. Prayuth also said in the televised speech that Thailand had moved toward a “fully democratic” transition under his watch. The broadcast made no mention of attitude adjustment and other special junta orders.
Additional reporting Teeranai Charuvastra
Update: This article has been updated with statements from the ISOC spokesman.