Thai political cartoonist Sakda Sae Iao was summoned to a meeting with his government’s National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) a day after publishing a cartoon contrasting Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s lip-service at the UN in support of civil rights with the continued suppression of free speech at home. Sakda, who signs his cartoons “Sia,” is a cartoonist for the Bangkok-based daily newspaper Thai Rath. His cartoons have been critical of General Prayut’s 2014 military coup, and of Prime Minister Prayut’s post-coup government.
After the meeting with the NCPO at army headquarters, Sakda told reporters: “They [the NCPO] said if my new cartoons cause damage, I should be prepared for lawsuits.” Sakda was previously cautioned about his cartoons by government agents in 2014, shortly after the coup.
Wanchai Wongmeechai, president of the Thai Journalist’s Association, registered concern following cartoonist Sakda’s interrogation. “The premier assured the international community during his speech at the UN General Assembly last week that we’ll be back to democracy soon,” Wanchai said, “so I expect him to be more open.” Last month another journalist, Pravit Rojanaphruk, a reporter for The Nation, was detained by government agents for three days of “attitude adjustment.” According to the news website Khaosod, reporter Pravit “resigned from his post at The Nation a day after he was freed, citing ‘pressures’ on the newspaper.”
Cartoonist Sakda said: “I represent things in accordance with the facts. The issues that I put in the cartoons are from daily news. I didn’t just imagine them. I did put in some of my opinions, because writing cartoons is similar to being a columnist. It’s about provoking thought with your writing.” But Sakda acknowledged that the government’s threat of costly litigation aimed at “damaging” cartoons could put “pressures” on his newspaper as well, saying: “I may need to reduce my contribution as this may affect the organisation. It would have been alright if this affected me only.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) representative for Southeast Asia, Shawn Crispin, said: “Sakda Sae Iao’s editorial portraits have dared to speak truth to power in Thailand’s highly repressed media environment. The Thai junta’s claim to a monopoly on truth is as farcical as its claim to legitimacy. Sakda should be allowed to continue drawing his critical portraits without fear of reprisal.”