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DW Freedom

'Freedom of expression is an essential right'

There can be no genuine press freedom without the recognition that freedom of expression is a most essential right for a free and democratic society, writes Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk

To me freedom of expression means the right to express oneself freely without being constrained by draconian law or fear. Without tolerance for speech which we disagree with, feel appalled at, we cannot have genuine freedom of speech because freedom of speech includes the freedom to express something that you or I may not approve or agree with.

Through the diversity of views expressed by exercizing freedom of speech, society can learn new ideas and deliberate. This cannot be achieved without tolerance for differing views, however.

Press freedom, meanwhile, is the freedom for journalists to report, analyze and comment without fear.

Porträt - Pravit Rojanaphruk

Pravit Rojanaphruk

In an ideal society, there should be no law to constrain press freedom as well as freedom of speech. The public should be the ultimate judge on whether to believe journalists or media organizations or not.

In Thailand, critical information regarding the monarchy is severely constrained under the draconian lese majeste law - which is often used to curb any criticism or critical opinion about the monarchy. The maximum imprisonment term under the anachronistic lese majeste law is 15 years in prison and books and websites critical of the monarchy are banned and blocked in Thailand. At least 10 people are in prison under the law as we speak.

People ought to have the right to decide and publicly express themselves as to what they think is true or not, but this is not the case in Thailand when it comes to the monarchy.

Equally, if not more, disturbing is the fact millions of Thais support the censorship of anything deemed contradictory to the positive-only view toward the monarchy.

Also, since the May 22, 2014 coup, views opposing the military junta have been restricted by the military regime and some of those publicly and peacefully expressing their anti-coup sentiment have been detained and tried.

Thais need to be able to decide for themselves what's true or false, right or wrong. This cannot truly happen without freedom of speech, press freedom and a tolerance for differing views and information.

Pravit Rojanaphruk is a prominent Thai journalist and columnist for the newspaper The Nation. He was detained without charge for seven days in the wake of the military coup but later released.