Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

Thailand

Profile

Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 
65,300,000
Capital: 
Bangkok
GDP/capita: 
$5,815
Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Overview: 

Thailand is ruled by a military junta that launched a coup in 2014, claiming that it would put an end to a political crisis that had gripped the country for almost a decade. As the military government goes about remaking the political system, it has exercised unchecked powers granted through an article of the interim constitution to impose extensive restrictions on civil and political rights, and to suppress dissent. 

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • In August, voters approved a referendum on a draft constitution that would weaken political parties, strengthen unelected bodies, and entrench the military’s presence in politics.
  • Authorities placed severe restrictions on free expression ahead of the vote, including through the 2016 Referendum Act, which criminalized the expression of opinions “inconsistent with the truth.” Over 100 people were arrested for offenses related to the referendum.
  • In September, the government issued an order that halted the practice of trying civilians accused of national security, lèse-majesté, and certain other crimes in military courts. However, the order is not retroactive and does not cover cases that had already entered the military court system.
  • Following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October, the military government intensified restrictions on speech deemed offensive to the monarchy as it worked to manage the period of transition.
Executive Summary: 

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the military junta that seized power in a 2014 coup, continued to impose extensive restrictions on political rights and civil liberties in 2016, including through the use of an article of the interim constitution that gives the head of the NCPO unchecked powers. Activists who express opposition to the government are monitored, summoned, arrested, and detained on accusations of breaking a raft of laws that limit freedom of expression and assembly.

While the NCPO’s road map for a return to civilian rule has shifted several times since 2014, a draft constitution was released in March 2016, and 61 percent of voters approved the draft in a national referendum held in August. The new charter aims to weaken political parties and elected representatives, strengthen unelected councils and bureaucrats, and entrench the military’s presence in politics. The draft was developed without meaningful citizen input, and public discussions and debates to promote awareness and understanding of its content were not permitted. The 2016 Referendum Act banned campaigning on the charter or expressing opinions that were “inconsistent with the truth;” violations carried penalties of up to 10 years in jail. When students and other civil society activists tried to distribute flyers about the charter or advocate for voting against it, they were arrested; when academics tried to hold seminars to analyze its contents, security officials forced them to cancel the events.

The death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October ended a 70-year reign. His son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, in December accepted the invitation of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to succeed his late father. The junta intensified restrictions on speech deemed offensive to the monarchy as it worked to manage the period of transition.

In September, the government issued an order that halted the practice of trying civilians accused of national security and lèse-majesté crimes, and of violating NCPO orders, in military courts. However, the order is not retroactive and does not cover cases that already entered the military court system. 

Aggregate Score: 
32
Freedom Rating: 
5.5
Political Rights: 
6
Civil Liberties: 
5

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