BANGKOK – The coup-installed regime does not like the words “coup,” “detention,” “arrested,” “prisoners” or “destroying democracy”.
Instead, the junta demands a bizarre Orwellian cleansing of political and legal language about Thailand.
What really happened when the U.S.-trained military toppled an elected government on May 22, cancelled the constitution, censored free speech and began forcibly interrogating people?
“We are not destroying democracy. We strengthen democracy,” the junta’s spokesman said.
The bloodless power grab was a “military intervention. I try not to use the word coup,” said Col. Werachon Sukondhapatipak who nevertheless occasionally expresses the c-word which must be shunned.
Thailand has suffered 22 coup attempts since 1932, including 13 successful putsches.
“Of course we are very experienced in terms of intervention. Anyone want to argue with me? This is the 13th. Coup number 13. Lucky number.”
The military regime ordered 300 politicians, academics, activists and others to surrender at army camps, where they can be held incommunicado for up to one week.
But in junta-speak, “detention” does not exist.
“I just want to clarify about the word ‘detention’. I fully understand that when you hear the word ‘detention,’ you feel it is quite scary. It is an outrage, right? You are put in the dark cell. Tortured. Confined. Something like that,” the colonel said.
“I will share with you the conditions of the so-called ‘detention’ word. And can you come up with some better word than that?” the colonel ominously asked journalists during his first news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on Wednesday (June 11).
The army camps’ cells are air conditioned, and abundant with delicious food. Inmates enjoy free entertainment.
The confined men and women are “not arrested.”
The colonel said every inmate is asked by their army keepers:
“The conditions are good for you? Is there anything you need? Apart from the air conditioning? Apart from the good food? Apart from [the] activities that we provide? Apart from all kinds of facilities that make you feel time is passing by so quick? And apart from the entertainment we provide for you?”
The colonel then asked the foreign correspondents listening to his elaborate explanation: “Is it detention?”
Are they prisoners?
“I don’t know if you are using the right word or not. ‘Prisoner?’ I personally never came across those sort of conditions, particularly for those who have been invited and been accommodated to stay with us, to share with us.”
There are “no political prisoners.”
People who refuse to obey the junta’s order to surrender at an army camp, can face a court martial with no appeal and up to two years in prison.
“Every country, when you are confronting or facing the crisis situation, you need to have the special security measures to deal with the situation at that time. The United States has the Patriot Act to deal with the situation after 9/11,” the junta spokesman said.
Col. Werachon served for the past five-and-a-half years in the Directorate of Intelligence where he was director of the Foreign Liaison Division, working with foreign embassies’ military attaches in Bangkok.
He is also deputy commandant of Thailand’s Intelligence School.
Talkative, urbane, humorous and soft-spoken, the colonel tries to exude charm while describing what it is like for worried people who are brought in for “cooling off” sessions at army camps and questioned about their thoughts.
In an ironic twist during his news conference, the suavely grinning colonel became suddenly anxious and unable to concentrate when he was to be questioned about his thoughts.
“In fact, I must confess that I have something more important to say to you, but I forget.
“Because everyone looks at me, I feel nervous. Can you look somewhere over there? I’m not used to this. I’m not used to having hundreds of people looking at me at the same time.”
The experience was “too dramatic.”
The colonel also felt the need to publicly express total loyalty to coup leader Army Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha.
“I understand that you don’t know my leader. My commander in chief. My general. But I have full confidence in him. He is the most sincere person that I have ever come across in my life.
“This is just my personal view. You don’t need to believe me. But as a person who is sitting here talking to you, looking into your eyes here, maybe more than a hundred eyes, I have full confidence, a full trust, in my leader,” Col. Werachon said.
“I am very optimistic. The world is so beautiful for me.”