Hit by multiple controversies, the military is placing itself beyond the reach of public inspection by branding anyone who dares challenge its practices, a public enemy or slapping them with a lawsuit.
One notable example is the case of Narissarawan Kaewnopparat, who is seeking justice for her uncle, who was beaten death while serving as an Army conscript in 2011. Narissarawan is being sued for defamation over the accusation that an Army Captain, who is reportedly the son of a general, ordered the fatal beating.
The actions against Narissarawan suggest that Army brass intervened to prevent a high-ranking officer’s son being called to account for deadly violence within the ranks.
In a case less well known to the public, Cross Cultural Foundation director Pornpen Kongkachornkiat and fellow human rights activists Somchai Homla-or and Anchana Heemina have been hit with charges of defamation and violating the Computer Crime Act. Their alleged crime was to report that 54 suspects were subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment at the hands of the military in the deep South.
These and other recent cases show that anyone who seeks to expose ugly practices within the military is viewed by the junta as undermining national stability and harbouring a political agenda. In taking that attitude it dodges the need for public accountability that is the very foundation of social justice and democracy. The same dodge was used over revelations that a construction company run by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s nephew had won contracts worth more than Bt155 million from the Army. Government officials were quick to brand questions asked about the deals as political attacks by those who oppose the government.
The prime minister has emphasised time and again that his 2014 power seizure was justified because corrupt politicians were threatening national security and had to face justice.
However, it is now clear that no one is permitted to scrutinise the military and the government under its control, or to call them to account for the same corrupt practices once indulged in by politicians.
The country has reached a very dangerous situation, since Thai history has taught us that uncontrolled and unchecked use of power results in devastating tyranny.
The scenario before us will only darken further if the military and the government continue to deny legitimacy to public and independent bodies who scrutinise their operations. In this period of transition back to civilian rule, members of the armed forces cannot use their influence with the military government to evade the rule of law and remain unaccountable to the public.
Right now, however, we are at the mercy of a government that wields absolute power. We can only hope it does the right thing, and avoids repeating the mistakes of past authoritarian regimes whose violence against their opponents has left such deep scars in Thai history.