CPJ is honored to present its 2017 International Press Freedom Award to Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk.
Pravit Rojanaphruk is one of Thailand's most prominent critical reporters and a long-time advocate for press freedom. He is currently a columnist and senior staff writer for Khaosod English (Fresh News), a website established in 2013 that publishes critical coverage of Thailand's junta. Before that, he worked for more than 20 years with the local English-language newspaper The Nation.
In May 2014, Pravit was summoned and detained incommunicado for a week soon after military coup-makers seized power. In September 2015, he was summoned again to a military base, where he was blindfolded, driven for over an hour to a house with closed windows, and held incommunicado in a four-by-four-meter room by plainclothes military officials. Pravit said he thought he could be disappeared permanently during that time.
Upon his release two days later without charge, military officials threatened to seize his personal assets if he continued to criticize the regime, he told CPJ at the time. As a condition of his release, he was forced to sign a form pledging not to become involved in any anti-junta activities.
The ruling National Council for Peace and Order junta told reporters that Pravit was detained because he had written articles that "could cause confusion and misunderstandings" and which "go against the [Council's] efforts to keep public order." Days after his release, the president of The Nation newspaper, where Pravit had been employed for 23 years, asked him to resign to avoid the paper facing government pressure. The paper's president, Pana Janviroj, told local media that Pravit's resignation was "mutual" for both sides and that The Nation's editorial stance had not changed due to the incident.
Pravit has maintained his critical tone and probing reporting style despite being under military threat. In particular, he has closely chronicled and critiqued the military regime's harsh crackdown on anti-royal sentiment, where scores of Thais have been imprisoned under draconian lese majeste laws that allow for three to 15-year prison penalties for any criticism of the Thai royal family. In May 2016, the junta barred him from leaving the country to attend a UNESCO-organized event for World Press Freedom Day in Helsinki, Finland.
Media freedom in Thailand has deteriorated significantly under military rule. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has imposed various measures that give the government broad authority to muzzle the media. Those include military orders that ban news reporting that could "create confusion, instigate unrest, or deepen divisions among people" or could be considered "malicious" or "misleading." Another executive order empowers the state broadcasting commission to shutter media outlets for reasons of national security, without the right of appeal.
In February, CPJ wrote a public letter to Prime Minister Prayuth, calling on him to scrap draft legislation that would impose new government controls on privately owned media and journalists, and to ask the military-appointed legislature to repeal amendments to the 2007 Computer Crime Act passed in December that gives the government sweeping powers to censor the Internet. The legislation is still pending.
CPJ also highlighted Pravit's case in a February 2016 letter to former U.S. President Barack Obama in advance of a high-level meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In the letter, CPJ urged Obama to prioritize press freedom improvements in a country that has experienced significant declines in freedoms under heavy-handed military rule.