Talk to the cardboard cutout: Thai prime minister won't be taking any more questions
January 9 at 6:54 AM Thailand's prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha assigned a life-size cardboard mock-up of himself to respond to questions by journalists on Jan. 8. The cardboard cutouts were reportedly produced for Thailand's Children's Day. (TPBS/AP)
In a bizarre move highlighting the pressures journalists are facing worldwide, Thailandâs prime minister on Monday assigned a life-size cardboard mock-up of himself to respond to tough questions by journalists.
âIf you want to ask any questions on politics or conflict,â Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was quoted as saying by the Associated Press, âask this guy.â
After installing it behind the microphone from where he had been expected to answer questions, Prayuth then walked away. The cardboard cutouts were reportedly produced for Thailandâs Children's Day and some j ournalists reacted with laughter as others took selfies.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha evades the media with cardboard cutout replica in Bangkok on Jan. 8. (EPA-EFE)
But Human Rights Watch, a New York-based nongovernmental organization, strongly criticized the incident Tuesday, saying that it was part of a âlong list of his bizarre and bullying reactions to reporters.â
According to the Associated Press, Prayuth had previously thrown a banana peel at journalists and threatened others with execution, in what appeared to be a particularly tasteless joke.
Press freedom has declined in Thailand and around the world in the past years, according to the press liberties watchdogs Article 19 and Freedom House, and intimidation and threats were n ot limited to authoritarian regimes. President Trump frequently lashes out at what he calls âFake Newsâ and is now even initiating a âFake News Award,â which is âgoing to the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media.â Trump also was notorious during his presidential campaign for inciting the crowds against the journalists present at his rallies.
Last October, the Czech president waved a mock rifle at journalists during a news conference.
For his part, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly threatened journalists in widely condemned remarks, too. As a candidate, he was quoted as saying, âJust because youâre a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if youâre a son of a bitch.â When Duterte later met with Trump, his U.S. counterpart chuckled after Duterte called journalists âspies.â
An official arranges cardboard cutouts of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in Bangkok on Jan. 9. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)
Then, last July during a photo opportunity, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is frequently accused of undermining press freedom in his country, pointed at journalists in the room and asked Trump: âThese are the ones hurting you?â Trump responded, âThese are the ones. You're right about that.â
The fear is that threats against the media by world leaders such as Trump will only further embolden the Thai leadership â" and other governments â" to lay down more restrictions against journalists. Prayuth recently referred to âFake News,â deploying rhetoric similar to Trumpâs.
Freedom House classifies Thailand as ânot free,â writing on its website that the military government âhas systemat ically used censorship, intimidation, and legal action to suppress journalists and media outlets.â
âAuthorities aggressively enforce defamation and lÃ¨se majestÃ© laws, and have summoned journalists for meetings at which they are pressured to stop producing coverage critical of the NCPO,â according to Freedom House.
Human rights organization Amnesty International called the developments a âspiral into silence.â
Prayuth came to power in 2014 following a military coup, initially conceived as a temporary solution to a tumultuous period in Thai history marked by street protests. But promised elections have repeatedly been delayed, and Prayuthâs government has expanded its powers instead.
On Tuesday, the countryâs Foreign Ministry confirmed that Prayuthâs predecessor, Yingluck Shinawatra, was now in Britain where she sought refuge about a year ago. The former prime minister was previously sentenced to five years in prison for negligenc e in a trial conducted in absentia.
Critics allege that the trial was politically motivated and unfair, but their voices are unlikely to be widely reflected in Thai media, which is now banned from expressing opinions âinconsistent with the truth,â according to a vaguely worded 2016 Referendum Act.
Czech president waves mock rifle âat journalistsâ during news conference
How Trump is undermining press freedom around the worldSource: Google News Thailand | Netizen 24 Thailand