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News from the international freedom of expression community Juli 12, 2007

Posted by jrki in Berita.
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IFEX – News from the international freedom of expression community
_________________________________________________________________

ALERT – THAILAND

11 July 2007

Ruling junta looking to outlaw dissent over draft Constitution; critical
webmaster arrested, detained a day

SOURCE: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Bangkok

**For further information on the freedom of expression implications of
the
draft Constitution, see IFEX alerts of 29, 28 and 26 September 2006**

(SEAPA/IFEX) – Thailand’s military leaders are contemplating a law that
will clamp down on organised opposition to a controversial draft of a
new
constitution.

With a referendum on the new charter scheduled for 19 August 2007,
junta-appointed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont warned on 2 July that
any
organised movement to reject or de-legitimise the charter via an
electoral
boycott could be made illegal when a proposed Referendum Act, which has
passed the first reading in the National Legislative Assembly, comes
into
force.

Such a law would be a serious infringement on free speech, as it would
effectively stifle open debates over the draft constitution and its
provisions.

If the people reject the charter, the Council for National Security
(CNS),
the governing authority comprised of the coup leaders, is authorised to
revive, amend and impose any previous constitution.

As the prime minister was quoted in “The Nation”, an English-language
daily
in Bangkok: “I will illustrate this simply. Between something I have in
my
hand in front of me and something I have in my hand behind me, which one
will people choose?”

Thithinan Pongsudhirak, a leading political scientist from Chulalongkorn
University, said in an analysis published by the “Bangkok Post” on 9
July
that the Referendum Act is “a pro-charter law” designed “to discourage
organised anti-charter movements”.

Thitinan said that “those who oppose the charter concertedly will be
liable
for incarceration and  fine, but the same punitive measure will not be
applicable for those in favour”.

SEAPA Executive Director Roby Alampay said the proposed Referendum Act
is
thus “intended to black out one side of the debate over a controversial

and controversially crafted – draft constitution”.

The draft constitution was ostensibly adapted from Thailand’s 1997
“People’s Constitution”, which was scrapped by the coup leaders when
they
seized power from the democratically-elected government of former prime
minister Thaksin Shinawatra on 19 September 2006. But while experts from
various fields had a hand in drafting it, the charter has been met with
protests by anti-coup groups, supporters of Thaksin, and even monks who
want a constitutional clause recognising Buddhism as the state religion.
All are calling for the draft to be rejected, asserting that it came
through “undemocratic means”.

One vocal anti-coup and anti-charter activist, webmaster Sombat
Boonngarmanong, was arrested on 6 July 2007, while giving a speech to
about
150 people in Chiang Rai, a city in northern Thailand.

According to local reports, Sombat was arrested by a joint
police-military
force at 7:00 p.m. (local time) after he refused to stop criticising the
CNS and the military-installed government through a loudspeaker at the
Chiang Rai bus terminal.

Sombat, 39, is the webmaster of several anti-coup websites, including
http://www.sep19.org , which was closed down on the very day it was set
up.

He was held at the Mengrai Maharaj military base, where about 100
people,
including Sombat’s wife and daughter, later gathered to demand for his
prompt release.

Released 24 hours later, Sombat said he was questioned by several senior
military officers who tried to implicate him in the recent dissemination
of
anti-CNS leaflets in Chiang Rai.

”It is clear that there is no freedom of speech in provinces where
martial
law is still in effect. This is a worrying situation because freedom of
expression is much needed at this time with a national referendum coming
up
on the new charter,” he said.
For further information, contact Roby Alampay, Executive Director, or
Chuah
Siew Eng, Alerts Coordinator, at SEAPA, 538/1 Samsen Road, Dusit,
Bangkok,
10300 Thailand, tel: +662 243 5579, fax: +662 244 8749, e-mail:
sieweng@seapa.org, seapa@seapabkk.org, Internet: http://www.seapabkk.org

The information contained in this alert is the sole responsibility of
SEAPA. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please
credit
SEAPA.
_________________________________________________________________
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