By NUNTHIDA PUANGTHONG
Ambassador calls for more space for public discussion.
THE PRAYUT government yesterday remained adamant on its stance over human-rights protection and the lese majeste law while US Ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies repeated calls for Thailand to open wider space for the public for discussion.
Davies said the junta’s intimidation of political activists and families have raised extreme concerns about Thai commitment to freedom of expression. The US is worried about the limitation of basic freedom, the right of expression as well as the right for political gathering besides the trial of civilians in a military court, he said.
Davies was speaking after his meeting with Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai at the ministry. The Thai Foreign Ministry had earlier said that Don had “invited” Davies to meet with him, but Don later claimed that the meeting was a routine one and Davies had initiated it.
The US envoy said his country has called for the Thai government to allow open discussion and free participation of the people in determining the country’s political future through the public referendum on the charter draft in August. The US wished to call and encourage Thailand to lift all restrictions on the matters, according to the envoy. The discussions lasted about 90 minutes.
The meeting happened one day after the Thai delegation was bombarded with criticism at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva of what many Western countries consider the military-led regime’s poor rights record.
Don said that during the meeting, they discussed a variety of issues, including South China Sea and the human rights situation.
Davies clarified a recent remark by Katina Adams, US State Department spokeswoman for East Asia and the Pacific, saying she had only expressed her concerns and not condemned the lese majeste case.
Adams had criticised the arrest of Patnaree Chankij, mother of activist Sirawith Seritiwat, on lese majeste charges over her chat on social media. Patnaree’s arrest ignited international criticism over Thailand’s human-rights practices. Sirawith has been a thorn in the side of the military junta since it seized power in 2014 and has been detained several times on charges of violating the junta’s orders prohibiting political gatherings.
“These actions create a climate of intimidation and self-censorship. We are troubled by the recent arrests of individuals in connection with online postings, and the detention of Patnaree,” Adams had said.
“The arrest and harassment of activists and their family members raise serious concerns about Thailand’s adherence to its international obligation to protect freedom of expression.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday held discussions with retired US admiral Dennis Blair, regarding democracy and human-rights issues in Thailand, Deputy Government spokesman Maj-General Wera-chon Sukondhapatipak said.
Prayut hoped Blair would understand the transition period in Thailand and convey that message to policymakers in Washington, in part because Blair is the author of the book “Military Engagement: Influencing Armed Forces Worldwide to Support Democratic Transition”. The government had never arrested a person who had not violated the law.
“Thais have freedom of expression under the law as long as they don’t provoke violence or national division,” Werachon quoted Prayut as telling Blair. Blair said he understood the situation in Thailand.
Meanwhile, Deputy PM ACM Prajin Juntong met with Staffan Herrstrom, the new Swedish ambassador to Thailand. Prajin said he briefed the envoy about freedom of expression and assembly to improve his understanding of the situation. On its Facebook page, the Swedish Embassy said Herrstrom had highlighted in his meeting with Prajin the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly “so that also critical voices can be heard, not least in the context of the forthcoming referendum”.