Thai premier defends rights record since coup

BANGKOK • Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday defended his country's rights record since he seized power in a 2014 coup, saying he acted to end months of political instability.

Thailand has faced a deepening rights crisis since the coup, with political activity and peaceful gatherings banned, say activists.

Military courts have been used to try national security cases, including ones involving civilians, and relations with some Western countries, including the United States, have frayed.

"Those who evoke human rights and democracy, look at what happened in the past," Mr Prayut said in a speech at Bangkok's Government House.

He is scheduled to travel to New York City next week to attend a session of the United Nations General Assembly.

"Foreigners have to understand what we're going through... Every country has gone through rough times. We are just a little late," he said.

"Don't tell us that we abuse rights, you also abuse the rights of others. You create problems too."

South-east Asia's second-largest economy is slowly recovering from the events of 2014, when months of street protests and the coup almost brought economic activity to a standstill.

Since then, dozens of junta critics have been held incommunicado in military detention, although the exact number of people detained remains unknown.

During a UN Human Rights Council review of Thailand in May, foreign governments expressed concern over the deteriorating rights situation in the country.

Mr Prayut, a former army chief, said he took control of the country in an attempt to calm months of political crisis.

He has repeatedly said that he does not want to hold on to power beyond next year, when a general election is expected to take place.

The military government said on Monday that it would prosecute cases concerning national security and royal insult in civilian courts instead of military courts - a change that a rights group said was "window dressing" before a UN review.

Thailand's defence minister also spoke at Government House yesterday, and said that bombings in Thai tourist towns last month were not linked to Muslim separatists, contradicting an earlier police statement.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2016, with the headline 'Thai premier defends rights record since coup'. Print Edition | Subscribe