The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand canceled a panel discussion this week about a missing plaque marking the birth of Thai democracy after police said the event would threaten national security, FCCT officials said.
The cancellation is the latest twist in the case of the missing plaque, which has spurred debate about free speech and democracy in military-controlled Thailand. Junta leaders have told people not to raise questions about the missing object that was mysteriously replaced with a pro-royalist plaque, and have even taken some into custody who allegedly did not heed that warning.
Authorities this week arrested and charged six Thais on suspicion of violating the nation’s strict royal defamation law by sharing a Facebook posts about the missing plaque, according to reports.
Officials at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Bangkok on Wednesday night announced their decision to cancel the program, “Memories of 1932: The Mystery of Thailand’s Missing Plaque,” scheduled for that evening, saying they had received a letter from the district police asking the club to call off the event.
Police told the FCCT that “relevant officials” had contacted the local police station about the matter, club officials said in a statement.
“In the letter the police said these officials believed that the event posed a threat to national security, and that it could be used by unscrupulous individuals to stir up disorder,” the club said.
“The FCCT disagrees with this assessment. Our events are always well-moderated and allow for constructive and civilized discussions,” it added.
The club noted it was led to understand that the police request to cancel the program came through orders from the National Council for Peace and Order – the official name for Thailand’s junta.
The discovery of the missing plaque was reported in the Thai press on April 14.
The small bronze plaque was embedded in the pavement in Bangkok’s Royal Plaza near the king’s palace. The plaque is a much cherished symbol of constitutional democracy in Thailand, which began 85 years ago when the 1932 Siamese Revolution brought about an end to absolute monarchy.
News of the missing plaque surfaced only eight days after King Maha Vajiralongkorn signed into law the country’s 20th constitution since 1932. The new charter has set a timetable for the nation’s first elections under the current junta, which seized power three years ago this month.
Those could take place as late as November 2018. The charter, however, allows the military to influence the process and retain a grip on government, critics say, although the generals have promised to put Thailand back on a path to democracy.
On April 18, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha urged people not to stage street protests over the missing plaque and said they should stop drawing attention to the object.
“I would like to remind you that, no matter what you do in the meantime, I do not want the country to go nowhere,” Prayuth told reporters. “For that matter, I do not want it to be an issue ... we have a democracy for more than 80 years, and I have affirmed that I am pro-democracy, so it is up to us to move our country forward.”
On Wednesday, police announced that six people, including Thai human rights right lawyer Prawet Prapanukul, were arrested under the royal defamation law known as Lese-Majeste.
Anon Nampa, a leader with local NGO Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, said the six were accused of violating that law because they had shared Facebook posts about the missing plaque that were written by Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a Thai historian who lives in France, according to reports.
On April 12, the Thai government blacklisted Somsak as one of a trio of outspoken critics of the Thai monarchy, and banned its citizens from interacting over the internet with any of those three.
And eight days later, two pro-democracy activists were detained and sent for so-called “attitude adjustment” sessions after they had filed a complaint urging police to search for the missing plaque, Thai news website Prachatai reported.
Prawet, who also faces three counts of sedition, could face up to 150 years in prison if convicted on 10 counts of royal defamation, the Reuters news agency quoted Anon Nampha as saying on Thursday.