Members of the press have been waiting for Thailand’s junta, which took power after ousting Yingluck Shinawatra last may, to make good on its promise to relax martial law in the divided kingdom. They probably shouldn’t hold their breath: Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s Prime Minister and head of the junta, said that if journalists did not report “the truth” according to the official state line, he might have them killed. Reuters reports:
“We’ll probably just execute them,” said Prayuth, without a trace of a smile, when asked by reporters how the government would deal with those that do not adhere to the official line.
“You don’t have to support the government, but you should report the truth,” the former army chief said, telling reporters to write in a way that bolsters national reconciliation in the kingdom. […]
In January the junta forced a German foundation to cancel a forum on press freedom saying Thailand was at a sensitive juncture. Since taking power, the junta has made full use of martial law, which also bans all political gatherings.
Prayuth was particularly critical of the Thai-language Matichon daily newspaper, accusing the paper of siding with ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies.
“Don’t think I don’t know that your writing is pro the previous administration,” he told a Matichon reporter shortly before boarding a plane to Brunei. “The previous Interior Ministry bought many advertising spaces from you.”
But as the Financial Times writes today, the Thai PM’s eye-wateringly blunt remarks are just the most visible part of a broader trend in southeast Asia: the governments of Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar are all also various shades of authoritarian. Thus far, Washington has been in a holding pattern about how to deal with this broad situation, as the costs of having these strategically significant countries fall into China’s orbit is thus far largely (but not completely) trumping the desire of Wilsonians to speak out and condemn these regimes.
But with Prayuth’s remarks hitting new levels of menacing, one wonders how long this delicate balance in Washington will hold.