Thais should exercise caution in criticising the government, says activist

Thais should exercise caution in criticising the government, says activist

Thais should not be too afraid to criticise the military junta but should tread carefully and incrementally expand the limits of freedom of expression, said Yingcheep Atchanont, a freedom-of-speech activist and project manager at iLaw, a non-governmental organisation supporting democratic legal reform.

"Let us try to expand [the space for criticism] little by little. Don't be too afraid but don't be too brash," he said.

More than four months after the May 22 coup and after massive media censorship by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) as well as self-censorship, Yingcheep said people were still being restricted.

Censorship is not decreasing but is stabilising, he told The Nation.

"We now know what we cannot criticise directly and strongly, but doing so indirectly is permissible."

Although people are now using abusive words against junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha and making fun of him on social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter, a number of prominent Facebook users have closed down their accounts. One prominent Thammasat University lecturer, who has closed his real-name Facebook account, now expresses his views under an account with a funny Japanese pseudonym instead, said another source close to the lecturer who asked not to be named.

"The NCPO has created a climate of fear in the aftermath of the coup," said Yingcheep, adding that at least one anti-coup protester was arrested after he posted the picture of his protest on his Facebook.

"We don't know when they're going to [crack down]," Yingcheep said.

Meanwhile, a source from Voice TV, which is owned by Thaksin Shinawatra's son Panthongtae Shinawatra, said the station had suffered a massive loss of viewership since it was allowed to reopen by the NCPO but became very soft on the junta. Now, said the source who asked not to be named, the station is beginning to air critical content and has been attracting some viewers back.

Ten armed soldiers, however, were still stationed in front of Voice TV station on Vibhavadee Rangsit Road in Bangkok as of yesterday.

A satellite-TV executive, who also asked not to be named for fear of straining the already fragile relationship with the NCPO, said the station had a blackout for an hour last month after it became too critical of the junta.

Yingcheep urged the NCPO to stop arresting people for merely expressing peaceful political views against the military junta. He warned that such repression was not a solution and would likely lead to occasional outbursts of political anger in the long term.

The space for on-the-street anti-coup protest is now non-existent, he noted.

"It's zero. And a massive number of websites are being blocked."

Yingcheep added that even those websites with the three-finger "Hunger Games" salute were being indiscriminately blocked, as the symbol has been used to oppose the coup.

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