Junta bans referendum monitors

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha. Source: Wikimedia

The Thai junta has blocked opposition efforts to monitor the referendum on its new constitution scheduled for August 7, according to Human Rights Watch.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said anyone monitoring support for the referendum could be arrested and tried before a military court.

The UN secretary-general has also raised concerns over freedom of expression with Prayut during a 30-minute phone call.

“Thailand’s junta should immediately revoke its arbitrary restrictions on free expression, permit open discussion of the draft constitution, and ensure a fair referendum,” Human Rights Watch said.

The government has moved to crush a plan by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the “red shirts” backed by ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to set up referendum monitoring centres.

Prayut announced: “I insist that those centres can’t be opened. If they open, the authorities will arrest them. Gatherings of more than five people are not allowed… Violation of the NCPO’s order will not be tolerated.”

Police stormed the UDD headquarters in Bangkok at the weekend and forced the cancellation of a launch event for the nationwide monitoring campaign, as it violated the ban on political gatherings. The authorities across the kingdom closed the UDD’s monitoring centres. UDD leaders were ordered not to engage in referendum monitoring activities or face charges before military courts.

“The Thai junta is using threats and intimidation to bludgeon people into supporting a constitution that would prolong military rule,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said. “The generals expect the Thai people to just shut up, obey their orders, and approve their draft constitution without any discussion or debate.”

The junta is actively suppressing criticism of the draft constitution. In April Prayut said that opponents of the charter “have no rights to say that they disagree… I don’t allow anyone to debate or hold a press conference about the draft constitution. Yet they still disobey my orders. They will be arrested and jailed for 10 years. No one will be exempted when the Referendum Act becomes effective. Not even the media.”

Watana Muangsook of the Pheu Thai party and former government minister was arrested in April for posting on Facebook that he would reject the constitution.

Prayut said at the weekend that anyone wearing T-shirts opposing the charter or sending a negative message on Facebook could face prosecution.

“The UN and Thailand’s friends around the world should publicly make clear to Bangkok that they will only recognise a referendum that meets international standards,” Adams added. “A free and fair referendum affecting Thailand’s future can’t be held when the rights of people to speak and exchange their views is suppressed.”