Martial law has brought calm but not peace to Thailand.
A report released this week by the International Crisis Group warns that the military regime’s stifling of dissent could ultimately lead to greater turmoil. The military claims that the coup d'etat last May was staged to maintain order after six months of street unrest by anti-government protests.
They took TV channels and radio stations off the air, and only heavily censored versions have been allowed to return. Several hundred academics and activists have been detained. Many others have fled to the west where they are applying for asylum.
From his temporary new home in an undisclosed location in the United States, Jom Petpradab makes a Skype call home to his nephew. He assures him that he's doing just fine in the U.S.: "Don’t worry about me," he says. "Just go to school and do your best."
Jom Petpradab — Photo: Kannikar Petchkaew
After he hangs up he says he was just putting on a brave face. “It is not fine at all but I prefer to stay here where I can have freedom of expression and can do my work without any interfere or suppression.”
Petpradab, who'd fled right after the military coup, has worked as a journalist for more than 20 years in Thailand. Because he had given air time to controversial figures —including former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra — he feared he would be jailed.
“I can’t help feeling nervous about what’s going to happen now if my asylum claim is not granted," he said. "But I have heard that my case is being processed and I can stay here even when my tourist visa runs out.”
The fight goes on
Jarupong Ruangsuwun, the former Minister of Interior in the party Thaksin founded,
fled Thailand with his family weeks after the coup, and now lives in San Francisco, where he is waiting for his asylum claim to be processed.
Jarupong Ruangsuwun — Photo: manager.co.th
He says he spends his time online talking to people back in Thailand, and quips that he's "addicted" to the Internet. "With freedom of expression here I can research anything and talk about any topic," he says. "Thais can’t do this.”
The military junta has put out an arrest warrant for him, and Ruangsuwun is facing three charges: disobeying the junta’s summon, violating the computer act and libel. If he returns to Thailand he will likely be jailed.
“I’m 68 now but I will go on fighting. I don’t mean in the radical way, we will just keep speaking out and letting the whole world know the truth and push for change," he says. "The world won’t tolerate dictatorships. Thai people have never tolerated dictators — they just can’t say the truth because guns are pointed at them. Guns and weapons paid for by the people’s sweat and hard work.”
Kritsuda Khunasaen was an anti-government protestor who was detained by the military for 30 days. She says she was blindfolded and then beaten and sexually harassed. Once released she was helped out of the country.
Kritsuda Khunasaen — Photo: menschenrechte.eu
Now she is Norway and is living in an asylum seekers transit home. “When I arrived four months ago I felt so depressed and overwhelmed with fear and anger. I can’t speak their language. I don’t know what will happen and what life will be like here," Khunasaen says.
She says that her state of mind is improving, as she is getting settled into a new, if hopefully temporary existence, so far from Thailand. "I was very fortunate that I could flee so quickly," Khunasaen recalled. "What I gained here is a new life. I have freedom here. It’s amazing that another country has helped me even when my own country has done the opposite to their people.”