- Critics say ban stifles discussion, is selectively enforced
- Offenders face up to 10 years in prison for breaching law
A top Thai court ruled that a law criminalizing campaigning for or against a draft charter was legal, affirming the ruling junta’s ban on activities ahead of the August vote.
The Constitutional Court said in its unanimous decision Wednesday that Article 61 of the Referendum Act was allowed under the current constitution, which was written by the ruling military. In addition to banning campaigns for or against the draft, the law makes it illegal to disseminate “text, pictures or sounds that are inconsistent with the truth or in a violent, aggressive, rude, inciting or threatening manner.”
Critics have said the law, under which offenders face up to 10 years in prison, is vague and open to selective enforcement in a country where there are wide restrictions on speech following a 2014 military coup. The ruling junta commissioned the proposed constitution and has been pushing for its approval.
A number of politicians from the ousted government as well as academics and democracy activists have been threatened under the law for speaking out against the draft charter. They say the constitution would extend the military’s hold over Thai politics and is undemocratic because it would allow for a non-elected prime minister, turn the senate into an appointed body that included sitting members of the military and give extra power to the courts and bureaucrats.
The junta hasn’t said what will happen if voters reject the draft charter, but it could further delay elections currently slated for late next year. It could also hamper efforts to kick-start an economy that is growing at a slower pace than its biggest Southeast Asian rivals including Indonesia and the Philippines.
Junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha said Monday that he had no plans to follow the lead of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced his resignation after voters approved a referendum on leaving the EU against his advice.
“I won’t resign," Prayuth said. "I set my own rules. He didn’t come like me. Their country doesn’t have the same problem like us.”
The junta has also banned independent monitoring of the Aug. 7 vote.