July 19, 2005

Thai editors vow to fight new security law

By Nopporn Wong-Anan

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's top editors vowed on Tuesday
to fight an emergency law that gives Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra sweeping powers to censor news and tap phones to
curb 19 months of violence in the Muslim south.

The opposition and other civic groups also piled in against
the "Emergency Powers Law," enacted by decree at the weekend,
which lets Thaksin impose curfews, detain people without
charge, close premises and ban public gatherings.

The cabinet decided on Tuesday to enforce the special
powers, which critics say smack of dictatorship, across the
three southernmost Muslim-majority provinces of Yala, Pattani
and Narathiwat, the center of the violence.

The Nation newspaper said the law had brought about the
"biggest media crisis in modern Thai history" and urged print
and broadcast journalists to unite against it.

The National Press Council of Thailand, which monitors an
industry code of conduct, said the government should abolish
the decree "as soon as possible" and replace it with a bill
passed by parliament.

"The hasily-passed decree, which restricts the basic rights
and liberty of people and the media, will not solve the
problem, but will escalate it into an irresolvable crisis," the
council said after a rare industry-wide meeting.

The last time such a group comprising 50 senior
journalists, including top print and broadcast editors,
assembled was in July 1997 in response to a government attempt
to install a council to regulate the media. The idea was later


The government has said the new law, which consolidates
martial law already in effect in parts of the far south, would
improve its handling of security in the region, where more than
800 people have been killed since January 2004.

It has tried everything from olive branch to iron fist to
restore peace in the southern region, once an independent
Muslim sultanate where militants fought a low-key separatist
war in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nothing seems to have worked. Thaksin and other ministers
accuse the media of sensationalising events in the far south
and making the situation worse.

Pro-democracy activists, who have long complained about
Thaksin's autocratic but wildly popular style, say they are
determined to seek a Constitutional Court review of the
legality of the decree.

"We want to stop the implementation of this law, which is
threatening rights and liberties stated in the constitution,"
said Suriyasai Katasila of the Campaign for Popular Democracy.

"This decree is overthrowing the constitution, with
violations of more than 40 articles," he said.

Some senators and the opposition Democrats also called on
Thaksin to hold a special parliamentary debate on the law
before parliament reconvenes as scheduled in August. Thaksin
tersely dismissed the idea.