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Thailand renews post-coup policy of 'attitude adjustment' for political opponents

Thailand renews post-coup policy of 'attitude adjustment' for political opponents
Published 29 Sep 2015 

After the coup in May 2015 that overthrew the democratically elected Pheu Thai Government of Yingluck Shinawatra, hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists, and people accused of supporting the deposed government were summoned for 'attitude adjustment'.

A year later and the junta has embarked on a new round of 'attitude adjustments' aimed at convincing opponents about the necessity of the military's seizure of power. Those targeted had continued to defy the junta's authority.

In the days after the coup, names were read out on television and radio listing those wanted for 'attitude adjustment' and setting the time and location for the interrogation. These people, considered by the junta to be opposed to the coup, were brought before a panel of National Intelligence Agency officers and asked their views on the monarchy, the coup and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

While most complied with the conditions for their release, such as agreements not to criticise the junta and restrictions on foreign travel, others have maintained a low level of dissent, using social media to question the economic and democratic credentials of coup leader and current prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his leadership team.

Two former Pheu Thai politicians, Pichai Naripthaphan and Karun Hosakul, were detained in mid-September. Pichai was energy minister from 2011-2012 in the Pheu Thai government of Yingluck Shinawatra. It was the eighth time Pichai has been detained in the 15 months since the coup. A few days later, well-known journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk (see video) was also picked up. Pravit was arrested hours after tweeting 'Freedom can't be maintained if we're not willing to defend it.' It was the second time he had been detained, the first time being just after the coup. [fold]

All three men had previously been subjected to 'attitude adjustment' sessions but this time the treatment was harsher. At least one was hooded for an extensive period. All were kept in solitary confinement. Their locations were not disclosed and they had no contact with friends or family during their week-long detention.

One week earlier, the military junta revoked the passport of former Pheu Thai politician and junta critic Chaturon Chaisaeng.

Thai officials defended their decision to detain the two former politicians. The junta, known formally as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said the men were acting against the interests of the country and must stop making remarks contrary to 'national reconciliation.' 'Everyone is entitled to their opinions. However, they should speak their minds in a constructive manner. They are free to offer recommendations but not criticism,' said NCPO Deputy Secretary-General Chatchalerm Chalermsuk.

Coup leader Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has threatened to use an 'attitude adjustment' program on anyone who speaks out against the junta. 'All those who cause divisiveness or make groundless accusations against the government will face charges of inciting unrest and prosecution,' he said during a routine press conference while the men were detained.

Responding to questions about the detained men, Prayuth said those opposed to him or his government could even have their mouths taped shut. 'And as for politicians and political parties that keep talking these days, I beg you, if you don't slander me with your words, I will leave you alone. But if you still attack the government, let me ask you, who will let you do that? Especially my type of government. No one can speak like that. In the past, I let you talk and write on social media. You can write anything. But you cannot oppose me. No one will let you to do that. I hold that I have given you many chances already.'

Upon his release, Pravit Rojanaphruk, under pressure from colleagues at The Nation, where he worked as a journalist for 24 years, resigned from his position. 'Mr Pana (President of the Nation) told me that if I left, it would help lessen the pressure from all sides,' Pravit said. 'I left, reluctantly, in order to spare this battle.'

According to the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), the NCPO has interviewed at least 751 people since last year's coup. While some were officially summoned, others were subject to harassment outside their homes and offered invitations for coffee or for a meal. Cooperation was obligatory. Of those summoned, 22 were arrested and six charged with lese majeste, the controversial Article 112 of the criminal code which makes it illegal to offend the monarchy. Rights groups have highlighted the increased use of lese majeste to prosecute political opponents and stifle freedom of expression. Since his latest 'attitude adjustment', Pichai Naripthaphan has refused to give interviews and has toned down his tweets and Facebook posts.

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