General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the leader of the coup that deposed the elected government of Thailand and assumed powers as Prime Minister in 2014, has said recently that journalists who criticise him or ''causes divisions'' could be subjected to execution, and that he enjoys ''the power to close down the media, arrest people, order for people to be shot.''
''I condemn General Prayuth's statements categorically,'' the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression stressed.
''After a year of killings and terrible violence against journalists worldwide, such statements are simply outrageous''.
The Special Rapporteur noted that he receives reports from all over the world about attacks, killings and record numbers of journalists imprisoned, ''designed to silence criticism and deny citizens the right of access to information.''
''Journalists of all kinds perform one of the most fundamental tasks in a democratic society, throwing light on whether and how Governments behave in accordance with the rule of law or engage in corruption and human rights abuses,'' he said.
''Intimidation of journalists is by definition an attack on the public's right to know.
''There is no sense that General Prayuth spoke in jest,'' the expert said.
''But even if he did, the idea that the killing of journalists - let alone the shutting down of media in light of criticism - can be a laughing matter is reprehensible.''
The Special Rapporteur stated that Thailand should take immediate steps to lift the nationwide imposition of martial law, while expressing strong concerns about possible invocation of section 44 of the Interim Constitution that would further provide General Prayuth an unlimited authority to issue legislative, executive or judicial order.
''Freedom of expression and independent journalism, uninhibited by fear of reprisals, contribute to public debate and are essential for building inclusive societies and democracies,'' Mr. Kaye said.
''This includes the right of everyone to express criticism of public authorities.
''Not only Governments and public officials should exhibit respect for the role of journalists, but actually should publicly condemn all forms of threats and attacks against journalists at the highest political level and ensure no one is subject to intimidations,'' the human rights expert stressed.
The Special Rapporteur also expressed concerned with the increasing arrests and detentions under lese majeste law and Computer Crime Act, and called for an end to the criminalisation of dissenting opinions.
''This is particularly crucial now at the moment of drafting the new Constitution, which will shape the future of the country,'' the expert concluded.
Declaration of Interest
Phuketwan journalists Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison are being sued by the Royal Thai Navy for criminal defamation and a Computer Crimes Act count over a 41-word paragraph republished from a Reuters series on Burma's Rohingya boatpeople. The series won a Pulitzer Prize soon after.
The Royal Thai Navy's precedent-setting military-versus-media action predates last May's Army takeover in Thailand. The trial resumes in July. It is believed the maximum penalty is seven years' jail, not execution.
David Kaye (USA) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2014 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UN Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
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