Pravit Rojanaphruk

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Pravit Rojanaphruk
Nationality Thai
Education University of the Philippines, University of Oxford
Occupation Journalist
Organization Khaosod English

Pravit Rojanaphruk, Thai: ประวิตร โรจนพฤกษ์, RTGSPrawit Rochanaphruek, is a Thai journalist who works as a senior staff writer for Khaosod English ('fresh news').[1] He formerly wrote a regular column for The Nation, an English-language newspaper in Thailand, but was pressured to resign due to his political opinions following the 2014 coup d'état.[2] Before the military coup, he was a prominent champion of democracy and free expression and was consequently investigated several times. Immediately after the coup, he was arrested on a charge of lèse majesté and detained for a week. Since the coup, he has been highly critical of the ruling junta and its efforts to limit freedom.[3][4][5][6][7] Pravit has been detained for "attitude adjustment" twice by the ruling junta and as of 2017, has sedition charges against him for Facebook posts he made earlier that year.

Pravit was a Reuters Fellow at the University of the Philippines and a Chevening Scholar at Oxford.[8] Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a former Reuters correspondent, described Pravit in the British newspaper The Independent as "one of the country's best correspondents".[9]

Early life and education

Pravit was born into a Thai-Chinese family in Bangkok in 1967. The son of a diplomat, he spent several years of his childhood in Brussels and Manila. He received a bachelor's degree in community development from the University of the Philippines[10] and a master's degree in social anthropology from University of Oxford. His master's thesis was entitled, Tourist and Cultural Authenticity: Anthropological Reflection on the Notion of Cultural Authenticity in Tourism.[11][12]

Career

After working briefly in business, he began writing for The Nation in 1991. As of 1996, he was working as assistant feature editor of The Nation.[10]

Pre-coup writing

Pravit has been critical of the government in his reporting. In June 2011 he wrote in an article that discussions of Thai politics had, in recent times, begun to be characterized by mentions of "the invisible hand", "special power", "irresistible force", all of which were being used to describe the actions of the ruling Thai authorities. The terms were used by intellectual circles critical of the government to describe ruling authority without directly mentioning the government.[13]

In a January 2012 article for a Belgian newssite, Pravit summed up then-current Thai politics, noting that any open criticism of the government had virtually vanished, with only anonymous criticisms being found online. He continued, stating that the red-shirt leaders, who were branded "anti-monarchists" by their opponents, had made public statements that they support a democratic system with the king as the head of state. He noted that in 2011 at least three issues of The Economist had been banned in Thailand, allegedly because of their critique of the Thai monarchy and that "hundreds of websites critical of the monarchy are blocked by the state". Pravit cited four challenges to Thai democracy: taming the military, reshaping the role of the monarch, addressing the needs of the poor and uneducated, and figuring out "what to do with new political-business groups". Because of the ban on criticizing the monarchy, Pravit compared Thailand to a sick man needing treatment, but is unwilling to discuss his symptoms.[14]

Pravit reflected that while tyranny can be opposed when it is easily observed and palpable, it is harder to oppose when it takes the form of an "invisible tyranny subtly embedded within us as a result of culture, norms, political and religious ideology, the palpable pressure of social conformity and our own personal biases". He explained, "You can't readily observe the tyranny within yourself if you do not consciously try to examine or observe it. Some may think they can accept equal rights for people of various gender persuasions but may, deep down, be homophobic due to the deeply ingrained culture and popular discourse inculcating hatred or at least dislike towards gays, transsexuals, and lesbians. Some may think they are for democracy, but may have a hard time acting democratically when it comes to domestic relations, because inside they believe in some form of social hierarchy. Some may think they are for free speech and against censorship, but can hardly bear any hate speech or unfounded criticisms and accusation against them because they have little tolerance for differing views and in themselves believe in feeding others only the 'right' information."

He noted that in order for Thai corruption to be addressed, the Thai people must first confront certain biases and beliefs they hold due to their cultural and religious background. He asked of the Thai people, "Can Thailand automatically become a land of free speech without the draconian lese majeste law and the Computer Crimes Act, when many people are intolerant of anything negative said about the monarchy, and about themselves, and won't hesitate to file a libel charge, advocate censorship or take the matter into their own hands violently? Will Thailand become a land of free speech and criticism if many people in the media who engage in criticism of others on a daily basis can't take criticism or accusations themselves?"[15] "As people continue to fight and call for democracy, equality and free speech, it's imperative they examine such values at a personal level and not be mistaken in thinking that the only struggle is an external one. Sometimes, I fear that it might be easier to get rid of the external and visible tyranny than the tyranny that exists invisibly deeply within us. And to make it more complicated, I think both external and internal tyranny are intertwined."[15]

In an April 2013 article, Pravit expressed support for LGBT rights.[16]

Commenting in May 2013 about a border dispute with Cambodia, Pravit urged his countrymen to adopt more humanist views as opposed to their traditional nationalist views and to cease being so distrusting of foreigners. Declaring that "I am a human, first and foremost, then a Thai", he stated that citizens comprehending the "dark side" of nationalism and religious fundamentalism would be for the better.[17]

In an October 2013 article, Pravit wrote about Thailand's lese majeste law, which outlaws and defaming or criticizing the king or his family with a maximum prison sentence of fifteen years. Stating that "our culture of censorship has evolved into a culture of self-censorship," he admitted that although he "openly condemn[ed] and challenge[d] the law that has shut the ears and eyes of the Thai public, I also cooperate, doing my part by not speaking and not writing as frankly as I would love to." He commented: "If Buddhism doesn't have God, these Thais who claim to be Buddhists will invent one, so they can worship him, and the current king has almost become a God-like figure to them. It is as if they yearn to be proud of someone beyond any doubt. And to ensure that it's beyond any uncertainty, the very act of doubting the king and queen in public must be made illegal and carry severe punishment. Even the most prominent leader of the royalist movement was recently sentenced to two years in prison for verbally reproducing the defamatory remarks made by an anti-monarchist."[12]

In a December 2013 article, Pravit reminded middle-class Bangkok opponents of the Yingluck Shinawatra regime "that that you are not the majority of the people, and that Bangkok is just one part of Thailand.... I know that you middle class and well-heeled Bangkokians are used to snapping your fingers and having your maids, drivers, waitresses and even sex workers jump to satisfy you. It must be such a pain to see these people turning the tables and dictating the course of Thai politics.... Some of you say these 'red-shirt buffaloes' are too stupid to be allowed to vote—a privilege that should only go to college-educated Thais or the middle class". He compared this attitude to the apartheid system. "The poor and less-educated Thais in rural areas and in Bangkok want their political opinions counted as well. A lorry with 10 wheels cannot move forward with just one wheel dictating the speed. And so it is with Thailand". He called on his fellow Bangkokians to "try harder to convince them through civil dialogue, rather than engaging in bouts of expletive-loaded hate speech and showing open indifference to loss of life of among protesters who don't share your political opinions. We need to give a space for our fragile and young democracy to grow and mature. And that means employing legitimate democratic means in opposing Thaksin and Yingluck—no military coup and no mob rule, please".[18]

May 2014 coup and detention

In a post-coup interview, Pravit told Deutsche Welle that Thai society is divided between the equally powerful opposition party and the government, and that both sides were unwilling to talk. Also, the military was reluctant to step in since, if it did so, it would have faced millions of government supporters in opposition.[19]

After the 22 May 2014 military coup, Pravit and a fellow journalist, Thanapol Eawsakul, were summoned by the military on 23 May 2014. Before answering the summons, Pravit told the Thai media, "I hope people will not give up the spirit and that General Prayut will be the last dictator of Thailand". He was said to have added: "They can detain me, but can never detain my conscience". He thereupon taped his mouth shut and put his hands over his ears. On the following day he went with a lawyer and representatives of the UN to the headquarters of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). He was questioned for five hours without his lawyer being present and was then taken to an unidentified detention center.[20]

The Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCCT) of Thailand issued a statement expressing its deep concern about the detention of Pravit and Eawsakul, noting that freedom of expression and the right for journalists to work without fear of arrest or harm are core principles of the FCCT. The FCCT urged the new military government to end the detainment of journalists and lift restrictions on the media.[21]

Pravit later explained that he had been detained for a week at a military camp outside Bangkok. He reportedly told the commander that he did not bear any resentment towards him or his men, but on the contrary, explained he was an ardent supporter of democracy and freedom.[22] Upon his release, he later explained, Pravit was forced to sign a conditional agreement in which he promised he would not aid, join, lead, or have any involvement with any anti-junta movement.[23]

In a June 2014 article, he recalled his week as a "guest detainee" of the junta: "One Army colonel at the military camp in Ratchaburi Province, where a dozen of us ended up under military detention," he wrote, "said it was like handing us a football yellow card but not yet a red card. His boss, the camp's commander, who holds the rank of major-general and who called us 'older brothers', said we should think of the 'stay' as a sort of 'vacation'."

Pravit acknowledged that his group of detainees, which included "two former deputy prime ministers, the leader of the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy, Sondhi Limthongkul, the legal adviser to former premier Yingluck Shinawatra, red-shirt leaders, myself and others", with "respect and politeness". He said that the officers "were all very friendly" and there was "air-conditioning in our bedrooms" and even "a friendly football match against our 'captors'". Yet none of this could "cover up the fact that we were being kept as political detainees with no habeas corpus".

He said that 26 hours after his release he received an call from a colonel who asked him to cease his activities on Twitter that criticized the junta, now calling itself the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO). The colonel stated the generals wanted a period of time without any criticism. Only minutes later, he stated, he received another call in which a different colonel stated he was being monitored.[24]

His detention was apparently part of an effort by the army to put a stop to the flow of news and information and to control the editorial line of news media. In response to the detention, Lucie Morillon of Reporters Without Borders said, "The military government, which claims it wants to restore peace and public order, cannot continue to trample freedom of information underfoot". Morillon called on General Prayut Chan-o-cha to immediately release both Eawsakul and Pravit.[25]

Post-coup commentaries

In an article published in August 2014, three months after the coup, Pravit commented on General Prayut Chan-o-cha's statement that Thailand needs "Thai-style democracy". Presumably, wrote Pravit, the general was calling for a form of limited democracy. He asked: "Is Thai-style democracy about accepting a military coup as legitimate and as an integral part of Thai politics? Is Thai-style democracy about giving free reign [sic] to unelected 'good people' to rule without checks and balances? Is Thai-style democracy about limiting the sovereign power of the electorate and about limiting the power and role of elected politicians?" In any event, observed Pravit, this Thai-style democracy would deviate significantly from the Western definition of democracy. He believed that "Thai-style democracy" would be more about making semi-dictatorship seem more palatable to Thai people and the rest of the world. He stated, if Thai democracy is a limited form of democracy, perhaps it is more accurate to call it a semi-dictatorship. "Calling Thailand a semi-dictatorship doesn't sound good to the international community, however, and so instead of calling a glass half empty, they refer to it as half full."[26]

Pravit wrote in September 2014 about the recent cancelling of university talks believed to be critical of coup-makers.[27] Pravit warned that critics and dissenters of the current regime have little or no legal recourse or protection to publicly state their beliefs.[28]

In a March 2015 article, Pravit examined the cases of former Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang, an opponent of the military coup whose assets had been frozen and who was facing a military trial for failing to respond to a summons from the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), and of Red Sunday Group leader Sombat Boonngam-anong, another coup opponent who had begun selling clocks for a living after his bank accounts were frozen by the NCPO, and whose wife and children had fled to the US for safe haven.[29]

In another March 2015 article, Pravit noted that while "the junta-appointed chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, Borwornsak Uwanno, is busy promoting the new charter and its numerous built-in checks and balances, junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha is seriously considering anointing himself with unchecked absolute power under Article 44 of the provisional charter.... For many months now, Thais who cherish civic rights and democracy have been calling for the lifting of martial law". But Prayut seemed to be "seriously considering replacing martial law with an even more martial 'law'".

Pravit noted that "Article 44 of the junta's provisional charter basically gives absolute power to the head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which is Prayut. He can override the three branches of power—the executive, which Prayut already heads, the legislative, the members of which Prayut appointed, and the judiciary". In short, "Article 44 essentially means Prayut is the law. He can order the detention of anyone without charge, without having to put the person on trial and for as long as he desires. He can even order you or me to be summarily executed".[30]

In May 2015, noting a recent speech in which Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha stated, "We must eradicate human trash ['kaya manut'] from this country", Pravit commented, "Though his decision to refer to some of his countrymen as human trash may be appalling and disturbing, it's good that he did not say nice things that he doesn't believe in". He added: "Sadly, this sentiment has been plaguing Thailand for at least a decade — the belief that those on the other side of the political divide are not just wrong, but are enemies that need to be 'removed'". He pointed out that under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, "some 2 million of the 8-million population were killed for the sake of a political ideology that saw 'the other' as an enemy that had to be eradicated". Although "Thailand is far from becoming another killing field of that scale," stated Pravit, "the seeds of mutual destruction are quite visible as they continue being nurtured by hate speech on social media and watered by remarks from people like Prayuth". He urged his fellow Thais "to realise that simply because everybody isn't on the same side of politics, does not necessarily mean they have to hate and deem those on the other side as downright evil."[22]

"While optimists wait for the promised general election early next year," wrote Pravit in March 2015, "pessimists like me monitor the corrosive effects that continued military rule is having on Thai society and wonder about its long-term repercussions. Signs of military rule and martial law affecting citizens' basic rights and liberty are clearly visible". At a meeting of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT), for example, the organiser had said that the NCPO "had warned the club not to allow any criticism of the NCPO". Pravit commented: "Given that the junta is controlling every aspect of Thai politics for nearly 10 months now, forbidding criticism of the junta while talking about politics is like asking people to walk without using their feet."

Pravit expressed disappointment in FCCT president Jonathan Head, a BBC journalist, for stating the organization was "grateful" to the NCPO for permitting the meeting. "I...couldn't help feeling upset over the fact that the oppressed have to thank the oppressor," Pravit wrote. "We now live in a society," he lamented, "where those who try to defend democracy are arrested, while those who support military dictatorship are rewarded.... A society where citizens merely obey the law without wondering if the usage of the law is legitimate or not is doomed to docility".[23]

2015 detention

Pravit was "detained" by the military for the second time from 13 to 15 September 2015, Sunday until Tuesday. Pravit's first military detention was in May 2014, two days after the coup d'état, when the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) detained him at an army base in Ratchaburi Province for a week. In the second interrogation, after about an hour of questioning, Pravit was taken to an army base, where he was asked about his political stance, his affiliations with political groups and human rights organizations, and his reasons for disagreeing with Article 112, the lèse majesté law. During his interrogation, Pravit found that the military officials were concerned with social media. "They were paranoid about tweets, not even published news in The Nation". After being interrogated at the army base from 15:30-21:00, Pravit was transported in a van for a little over an hour to another location. During the ride, Pravit was blindfolded, so he did not know where he was taken. "Although I wasn't tortured,...I was severely intimidated and infringed upon", said Pravit.[31]

Resignation from The Nation

On 15 September 2015, Pravit resigned from The Nation under pressure from the newspaper due to his political opinions. He said he agreed to quit because he "considered the newspaper to be like his own home, which he didn't wish to destroy". Pravit had been detained on 13 September by soldiers and held incommunicado until 15 September for what the military called "attitude adjustment". He had been an outspoken critic, in newspaper columns and on Twitter, of the junta that has ruled since a military coup ousted a civilian government. It was the second time Pravit was detained by the junta, which summoned large numbers of politicians and potential dissidents in the months after the coup, and resumed a crackdown on dissent. The junta says criticism could destabilize the nation, which it says needs unity after almost a decade of sometimes violent political conflict.[32][33]

2017 sedition charges

On 8 August 2017, the Police Technology Crime Suppression Division charged Pravit with sedition and computer crimes for posting comments on his Facebook page criticizing military rule and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta's slow response to flooding in northeastern provinces. Sedition in Thailand carries up to a seven-year sentence. Thailand's "Computer-Related Crime Act" enables authorities to restrict online speech, spy on users, and censor. The government regards internet criticism of the NCPO as "distorted" and "false", an offense under article 14 of the law. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists the charges carry a sentence of seven to twenty years in prison.[34][35][36][37]

Book

His 1996 book Wishes and Lies is a collection of articles from The Nation, originally published between 1992 and 1995.[10]

Honours and awards

References

  1. ^ "Pravit Rojanaphruk, Senior Staff Writer". Khaosod English. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  2. ^ Tun-Atiru, Choltanutkun (2017-08-22). "Journalist facing sedition charges on attitude adjustment and self-censorship". BK. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  3. ^ "Pravit Rojanaphruk". Oslo Freedom Forum.
  4. ^ Peel, Michael (8 September 2014). "Spiritual spruce-up for Thai PM's compound". Financial Times.
  5. ^ "Thai PM's plan to lift martial law with 'dictator' ruling sparks concerns". The Guardian. Mar 31, 2015.
  6. ^ "#BBCtrending: Sandwiches, codes and salutes in Thailand". BBC. Jun 14, 2014.
  7. ^ "Fighting the crisis of liberalism, one suicide-bomber joke at a time". Financial Times. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  8. ^ "Pravit Rojanaphruk". CETRI.
  9. ^ "Andrew MacGregor Marshall: Why I decided to jeopardise my career and publish secrets". The Independent. Jun 23, 2011.
  10. ^ a b c d Rojanaphruk, Pravit (1996). Offner, Susan, ed. Wishes and Lies; Feature Stories from Thailand. Santi Pracha Dhamma Institute, Sathirakoses-Nagapradipa Foundation. ISBN 974-260-122-4. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  11. ^ a b "Hunting Authenticity - Pseudo-Tourism by Pravit Rojanaphruk and Pasakorn Intoo-Marn" (Email announcement). Thai Textile Society. 2010-06-17. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  12. ^ a b Rojanaphruk, Pravit (2013-10-11). "All The King's Men". Narratively. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  13. ^ "'Invisible hand' throttles our democracy". The Nation. 15 June 2011.
  14. ^ "Popular Mobilisation and Thai Democratisation: Thai Politics in Late-Rama IX Era". CETRI. 31 January 2012.
  15. ^ a b "To find freedom, first look into yourself". Prachatai. 10 November 2012.
  16. ^ "Same-sex union bill could see vote in House". Prachatai. 4 September 2013.
  17. ^ "For one to love Thailand, must we hate our neighbours?". Prachatai. 5 March 2013.
  18. ^ "A letter to the well-heeled protesters of Bangkok". The Nation. 11 December 2013.
  19. ^ Ebbighausen, Rodion (2013-12-27). "Unrest in Thailand, 'both sides unwilling to talk'". Deutsche Welle.
  20. ^ Reporters Without Borders (26 May 2014). "Thailand - Journalists summoned and arrested as Thai army gets tough on media". Thomson Reuters Foundation. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  21. ^ "Statement on the detention of Thai journalists". Prachatai English. 25 May 2014.
  22. ^ a b "It's not possible to eradicate those with different views". Prachatai English. 7 May 2015.
  23. ^ a b "It's scary when the abnormal becomes normal". Prachatai English. 19 March 2015.
  24. ^ "Life as a 'guest detainee' of the military". Prachatai English. 4 June 2014.
  25. ^ "Thailand - Journalists summoned and arrested as Thai army gets tough on media". Reporters Without Borders. 26 May 2014.
  26. ^ "What makes 'Thai-style democracy' globally palatable?". The Nation. 13 August 2014.
  27. ^ "Silence in universities won't make reconciliation easier". Prachatai English. 25 September 2014.
  28. ^ "Simple logic seems to have fallen victim to the coup". Prachatai English. 22 September 2014.
  29. ^ "Falling out with the NCPO can be costly". The Nation. 11 March 2015.
  30. ^ "Beware of those who see the need for Article 44". The Nation. 31 March 2015.
  31. ^ "Veteran journalist Pravit says military ill-treated him during detention". Pratchatai English. 2015-09-17. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  32. ^ Boonngok, Papitchaya (2015-09-16). "Thai journalist, just freed from military detention, resigns under pressure from his newspaper". Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Associated Press. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  33. ^ "Nation journalist Pravit quits after detention". Bangkok Post. 2015-09-17. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  34. ^ Feuer, Will (9 August 2017). "Global outcry over Thai Junta's charges against award-winning journalist". Southeast Asia Globe. Retrieved 20 August 2017. [not in citation given]
  35. ^ "Thai columnist Pravit Rojanaphruk charged with two cases of sedition". Committee to Protect Journalists. 8 August 2017. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  36. ^ Charuvastra, Teeranai (8 August 2017). "Khaosod English Reporter Charged With Sedition, Computer Crimes". Khaosod English. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  37. ^ "Thailand: Drop Charges for Critical Facebook Posts". Human Rights Watch. 2017-08-09. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  38. ^ "Pravit Rojanaphruk, Thailand". Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  39. ^ Dundup Sherpa Subirana, Lobsang (16 November 2017). "PRAVIT ROJANAPHRUK RECEIVES PRESS FREEDOM AWARD". Khaosod English. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
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