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THAILAND: MILITARY COUP - One month on, fact vs. fiction

October 18, 2006
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It is now one month since the armed forces of Thailand under General Sonthi Boonyaratglin took power on September 19. Since that time, the coup group and government officials have been creating a fictional version of what they have done, are doing and will do. To mark this occasion, the Asian Human Rights Commission lists some of the bigger fictions, and contrasts them with fact.?

FICTION: "There was no other way to avert a national tragedy"
FACT: The military regime has not produced any evidence to show that widespread violence was imminent, as it has claimed. There were certainly worrying conflicts, some of them planned, between supporters and opponents of the caretaker government of Pol. Lt. Col. Thaksin Shinawatra. However, there is nothing to prove that these would have threatened national security. Large-scale protests were set to resume, but those held earlier in the year had ended without any public disturbances. Meanwhile, the courts had been working to overcome obstacles to new elections, and had been taking up petitions with good progress and public support. The spectre of grave national instability, which has been conjured up by dictators throughout modern history as a routine pretext to obtain power by force, lacks believability.

FICTION: "The majority of people in Thailand support the coup"
FACT: There is no way to verify this statement. The coup group has used images of people in Bangkok giving flowers and food to soldiers as propaganda, nationally and internationally, to claim that it had popular backing. But opponents and critics of the coup have been banned from organising protests or other actions. A taxi driver who sprayed his vehicle with protest slogans and drove it into a tank at high speed later said from hospital that he was not a strong supporter of the previous government, but he had been upset at all the flowers and smiling troops giving the impression that there were not many people who disagreed with the coup. Talk shows, community radio stations, websites and other avenues for free public expression have been shut down or closely monitored. The media has been ordered to "cooperate" with the regime, and has largely complied.

FICTION: "The military will step down after one month"
FACT: The coup group, renamed the Council for National Security, is set to remain in power until a new government is elected; at least one year. In the meantime, its leadership has done exactly what it accused the previous government of having done: it has promoted its own people to positions of authority. General Sonthi has himself also become director of the powerful Internal Security Operations Command, a post normally reserved for the prime minister.

FICTION: "A civilian prime minister will be selected within two weeks"
FACT: The new prime minister is a retired careerist general and personal friend and colleague of the coup leaders who led troops involved in the May 1992 massacre, for which no military officers have ever been called to account.?

FICTION: "An interim civilian legislature will include persons from all social sectors"
FACT: The interim legislature has been rightly named "the assembly of generals". Out of 242 of the 250 members named so far, 76 are serving or retired generals and senior officers. Most other members are bureaucrats, businesspeople and some academics. By contrast, there is one labour representative, and four from political parties.

FICTION: "The military will be placed under the interim constitution and the Council for National Security will be limited to specific security issues"
FACT: The coup group is above the constitution; everyone else is below it. This is a traditional form of constitutionalism in Thailand. Only the 1997 Constitution was placed above all persons, because it was written in collaboration with the people and for the people, not by persons handpicked by generals, for generals. The interim constitution makes the Council for National Security the most powerful body in Thailand, with the means to control every aspect of the country's political workings while the law remains in effect. The legislature and other bodies it is setting up are merely its proxies.?

FICTION: "The interim constitution will fully guarantee civil liberties and rights"
FACT: The interim constitution has no guarantees of rights and liberties. A generic provision protecting human dignity and rights as per customary practice and international obligations is meaningless, as it is without substance, lacks any institutional means for enforcement and is anyhow contradicted by reality.

FICTION: "Many law experts looked at the interim constitution and were very happy"
FACT: The advices of law experts on the interim constitution were largely ignored. The version passed is virtually identical to the interim constitution of the 1991 coup group. It has been strongly and repeatedly criticised by law experts.

FICTION: "General elections will be held within one year, if not sooner"
FACT: The minister responsible for the office of the prime minister has estimated that it may be 17 months before elections can be held. Like its predecessors, the military regime is now looking for ways to extend its tenure.

FICTION: "One of the first tasks of the interim government will be to end martial law"
FACT: The clear intention of the junta is to retain martial law for as long as possible, in order to prevent persons associated with the former government from organising against it. Meanwhile, emergency regulations remain in force in the south, despite the government's claims that it seeks peace with insurgent groups there, and the earlier condemnation of these regulations by a United Nations rights expert. The regulations could also at any time be put in force anywhere else in the country, in lieu of martial law.?

FICTION: "The courts are independent"
FACT: The Constitutional Court has been recomposed as a tribunal and set the task of finalising earlier cases on constitutional violations by political parties. Like military regimes the world over, the coup group is messing with the higher judiciary for its own purposes, with the consequence that the entire judicial system is compromised.

FICTION: "The government will continue to meet all its international obligations"
FACT: Thailand's international human rights obligations were underpinned by the 1997 Constitution. In its absence, there is no legal foundation for compliance, and the institutions for protection of human rights in Thailand have been sorely damaged. Ongoing restrictions to freedom of speech, assembly, movement and other civil rights all breach international law, as does the amnesty that the coup leaders have granted themselves.

FICTION: "This is only a brief intervention to restore and strengthen democracy"
FACT: This is the biggest fiction of them all. It is also patent nonsense. Democracy is not strengthened by military coups. Nor does this coup group have any such intention. Having scrapped the only truly democratic constitution that the country ever had, however imperfect, it is now acting to reinforce established authority against the growth of other parts of society which were outside of its control. As the Asian Human Rights Commission has repeatedly said since September 19, the true intention of the coup group is to restore and strengthen the role of the armed forces in the political life of Thailand. This is the opposite of democracy.

The generals have in the past month successfully consolidated their power. Having spread its fictions for one month, there are many more to come. Thailand is now in even greater danger than it was on September 19. The Asian Human Rights Commission joins with all persons in Thailand who are struggling against the coup, and reiterates its calls made a day after the takeover, with an added sense of urgency:

1. The coup group must immediately renounce power and allow for a genuine caretaker civilian government to take control.

2. The Supreme Court of Thailand must declare the coup illegal and order a return to genuine constitutional rule.

3. The international community must persist in its condemnation of the coup until the coup leaders and their proxy government step down and proper measures are put in place for a return to civilian government.

Let there be no more government by military decree in Thailand.

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