Bangkok newspaper demands release of reporter after junta ‘invites’ and detains him
The Nation newspaper Monday called on the National Council for Peace and Order to immediately release its senior reporter and columnist, Pravit Rojanaphruk, after he was “invited” and then detained by the military Sunday afternoon.
The Nation’s Group Editor-in-Chief Thepchai Yong Sunday called for Pravit’s immediate release.
“There is no justification whatsoever for his detention. If the military believes he has done something wrong, there are normal legal channels to deal with it,” he said, adding that so far no one has offered an official explanation for Pravit’s detention and his family and colleagues have no idea where he is being held.
Thepchai said The Nation will submit a letter to Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha in his capacity as chief of NCPO asking him to have Pravit immediately released. “We see this as a direct threat to press freedom,” he said.
The Nation Monday morning contacted the military officer who summoned Pravit to demand details about the reasons behind Pravit’s detention and his whereabouts. However, the officer declined to give any details although he admitted he had “invited” the reporter.
The Thai Journalists Association (TJA) too called on the National Council for Peace and Order to release the detained journalist.
In its press statement, the TJA also called on the NCPO to clarify its action, saying the arrest did not only threaten the Thai people’s rights of expression but also affected the country’s image.
Meanwhile, the National Council for Peace and Order defended the detention of Pravit saying he had disseminated information in a way that was not in accordance with the guideline for keeping peace and order.
But NCPO spokesman Col Winthai Suvari did not provide details of specific incidents to prove that Pravit had disseminated such information.
Winthai said it was still uncertain how long Pravit would be detained, depending on results of investigations and Pravit’s cooperation as well as evidence.
Winthai said Pravit had presented information against the NCPO’s guideline more often recently.
“Sometimes, the information mentioned other persons or organisations. Such information could cause misunderstanding in society although there have been no proofs yet,” Winthai said.
He added that the NCPO would have to seek cooperation from all sectors to ensure that there would be peace and order in the country.
Pravit, a former Chevening scholar at the Oxford University and a Reuters fellow, has been a prominent champion of freedom of expression. He has not only spoken out against the military leaders who took power in a coup last year, but was also critical of the previous elected government.
Pravit spent a week in jail last year after being summoned by the national council for peace and order, the military leadership that rules Thailand.
The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group, which accompanied Pravit on his way to summons and posted photos of him, said he was called in for “attitude adjustment”, a detention program the government has used to haul in hundreds of dissenters for interrogation since the coup.
After being summoned, Pravit appeared to predict his own disappearance and tweeted Sunday: “Freedom can’t be maintained if we’re not willing to defend it.”
On Friday, the prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, defended the use of “attitude adjustment” to detain two politicians after they criticised his government’s handling of the economy.
“I’m not applying the law to those who are against me, but using the law against those who are wrong. Do you understand?” he said, adding that the politicians had been “invited”. “If you let them blame me, the people and society will listen to them every day, and one day they’ll believe in the things they say.”
The former energy minister Pichai Naripthaphan and former MP Karun Hosakul are members of the party of Yingluck Shinawatra, whose government Prayuth overthrew last year.
The country is divided between supporters of the military and supporters of the charismatic Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup.
Asked who else he would use the law against, Prayuth said: “Everyone whose comments cause division, bad intent to the government, criticising the things the government didn’t do, causes trouble and blames a government that’s trying to improve the country, I will consider.”
Human Rights Watch has condemned what it says is the continued use of arbitrary arrest and secret detention to intimidate and silence people who criticise the country’s military rulers.
“As the junta tightens its dictatorial powers, Thailand’s climate of fear is intensifying,” Brad Adams, its Asia director, said in a statement last week.