by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
September 25, 2006
THAI COUP PLOTTERS BAN MEDIA, ARREST LEADERS
BANGKOK, Thailand, Sept. 24 -- Thai coup leaders have started to ban news about ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and arrest his close aides in an attempt to suppress democracy and freedom of the press in the formerly open and democratic society of Thailand.
Anything related to ousted Prime Minister Shinawatra has been banned in the local media and his close aides have been detained since the coup last week by military officials with the backing of Thai King Bhumibol, who never appears in the political arena but supports the coup.
BBC news reports broadcast about the Thai prime minister's arrival in London from New York, where he was attending the UN General Assembly, was cut off and a caption appeared saying "Programming will resume shortly." Shinawatra flew to London after the coup. Coup leaders have said that he would be arrested and prosecuted if he returns to Thailand.
Western movies were broadcast until the news item of Shinawatra was over on the BBC last week. This proves that the "coup plotters do not stick to their word," a senior official of the Shinawatra government told the American Reporter on condition of anonymity, as the army has been arresting his close aides.
Reports of censorship have been common, while local news organisations also report that armed guards have been positioned outside their offices since the coup, the International Federation of Journalists said in a statement issued here Friday.
The Brussels-based IFJ expressed fears for a free and independent media after reports of a military crackdown on dissenting voices and censorship of news broadcasts in the days after the September 20 coup.
Although journalists are still able to move freely, and the Internet seems to be unaffected. The coup's leaders, jointly known as the Administrative Reform Committee, have announced they will use their power to block any information that might "undermine the reform for democracy."
There is fear among the journalists, said Suchitra, a media professional in Bangkok. The voice of Shinawatra and his supporters is completely unheard, she said.
"Is not this the censorship?" she questioned. "The very beginning of army rule is negative to the society," she said. "This is the worst form of governance, and [a] coup never gives a good lesson to the society."
Christopher Warren, a veteran media person and President of the IFJ, agrees.
"Censorship is censorship however it is described and a truly democratic society cannot exist when full and unfettered access to information is curtailed by those in power," Warren said in a statement.
The IFJ, representing more than 500,000 journalists in 115 countries, calls on the Administrative Reform Committee to immediately put an end to the censorship and provide the Thai people with full access to all information and news reports.
"Coups d'etat are never the answer and almost always lead to a crackdown on freedom of expression, most recently evidenced in Nepal," Warren said.
Meanwhile, Thai troops surrounded and searched a chartered national carrier flight which returned here from New York with part of the entourage of ousted caretaker Prime Minister Shinawatra.
Shinawatra was not allowed to fly by the national carrier from New York after the coup. The Thai Airways flight arrived with 20 government officials who had been travelling with Mr. Thaksin, according to local media reports. The officials were later allowed to go and some of them may be questioned, officials indicated.
Meanwhile, a close political aide to Thaksin, who was a minister in the Prime Minister's Office, was detained after he reported to the Democratic Reform Council led by Gen Sonthi, the coup plotter, who said that the administration of ousted Prime Minister "divided Thai society."
The military rulers of Thailand had earlier ordered the detention of a former deputy prime minister and interior minister.
Shinawatra supporters have complained that the military rulers have started to discourage his supporters in the rural areas where the ousted leader is said to be very popular.
"We are like outcasts in the villages, where the military officials humiliate and try to separate us from the society," a Shinawatra supporter from Chiang Mai said.
"We want to inform the world that this undemocratic government does not represent Thai people and has no right to reign," he said.
Many political analysts say that the corruption, inefficiency and suppression of opponent and independent media led to the oust of Shinawatra. However, there are many people of various walks of life, who believe Shinawatra could come to power if election is held in a free and fair manner under the supervision of UN or independent government.
"We challenge the coup plotters to hold election next month as scheduled and we will show whom the Thai people support," said an anti-military activist in Thailand.
And many people in Thailand believe that the military will only hold elections after making sure that the base of Shinawatra supporters is completely destroyed.
Bloodless military coups are somewhat of a tradition in Thailand, occurring time and again with the tacit support of the longest-reigning Buddhist monarchy in the world. The coups have always tried to preserve the future of the monarcht, often ousting popular leader.
Shinawatra was one of the longest-ruling Prime Ministers in Thailand, where more than 18 coups were plotted in the last 70 years, all apparently with the support of the king.
The prime minister's popularity surpassed that of the monarchy itself, and he and his activities were said to run counter to the interest of the King, who is revered by the majority of his Buddhist followers.
The Muslim general who led the coup, who was supposed to be retired, has saved his post for the time being by using the soaring popularity of prime minister to convince the king that he would enjoy more influence than the monarchy if he was allowed to continue in the post.
The anti-Shinawatra protest - especially against his decision to sell the Shin Corp. telecommunications company to Singapore, irritated the general public and helped the military to gain some popular support for the takeover.
But a military coup is not the solution but the beginning of problems for Thailand, a comparatively peaceful Buddhist country that is now moving in the wrong direction.
AR Correspondent Chiranjibi Paudyal is a veteran foreign correspondent who has reported for us from Nepal, London and Bangkok since 1999.