In the early months of this year, reports have surfaced, shedding light on an ongoing, troubling trend in Thailand. According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), there have been at least 40 cases of harassment and intimidation by state officials directed at pro-democracy activists between January and February alone. This worrying pattern is not new; in 2023, there were 203 reported cases. Since August 23, 2023, a significant date marking Srettha Thavisin’s vote into office as Thailand’s 30th prime minister, the total number of such incidents has risen to 243.

The method of this intimidation is chillingly consistent. Pro-democracy activists find themselves unexpectedly visited by an array of state officials, including police, soldiers, and members of the Internal Security Operations Command. These visits are not random; they are strategically timed to coincide with the visits of high-profile figures such as members of the royal family or the prime minister to the activists’ provinces. During these unannounced visits, officials question the activists or their family members about their whereabouts and activities, often taking photographs of them, their relatives, and their homes without providing any justification.

Moreover, the state’s interference does not stop at personal visits. Officials have been actively obstructing political activities, especially those opposing the controversial lese-majeste law, and closely monitoring seminars conducted by activists. A stark example of this was recently shared on the Facebook page of an activist from Thalufah, showing four plainclothes police officers who had visited him, inquiring about his participation in any recent protests.

This pattern of harassment and intimidation has profound implications for the state of democracy and freedom of expression in Thailand. It creates an atmosphere of fear and repression, directly undermining the democratic principles of free speech and the right to peaceful assembly. If the new government under Srettha continues to turn a blind eye to these practices, it risks aligning itself with the repressive tactics of the previous coup government led by Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The path forward for Thailand must include a firm commitment to protecting the rights and freedoms of its citizens, particularly those who dare to voice their dissent. The government of Srettha stands at a crossroads: it can either perpetuate a cycle of repression and intimidation or take decisive steps to ensure that the voices of pro-democracy activists are heard and respected. Failing to address and halt these practices of harassment and intimidation not only tarnishes the image of the current government but also jeopardizes the very foundations of democracy in Thailand. It is imperative for the government to act, affirming its distinction from its predecessors through actions that demonstrate a genuine commitment to democratic values and human rights.

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Author: Arun Saronchai