Thailand’s military is cracking down on social media, street protests, and illicit hardwood

They speak for the trees.
They speak for the trees.
Image: Reuters/Erik de Castro
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This isn’t the Thai military’s first coup d’état, but it is introducing some new wrinkles this time around, including restrictions on public dissent, a dry run blockade of Facebook, and some high-profile investigations of people associated with the ousted Pheu Thai party—not for opposing the coup, but for illegal possession of  teak wood.

According to Thai media, soldiers found a “large quantity of teak logs and planks” yesterday at the home of Yaowapa Wongsawat, the sister of deposed prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and exiled billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra. Earlier in the week, soldiers allegedly found illegal teak logs at a resort owned by Warupong Ruengsuwan, the son of Pheu Thai leader Charupong Ruengsuwan.

Teak, a tropical hardwood prized for its resistance to decay and termites, is a protected species in Thailand and in much of southeast Asia due to heavy logging that decimated natural forests over the past few decades. Exports are banned, and the Thai forest department requires special permission to harvest or transport teak; individual logs and timber come with special origin certificates.

The army began its latest campaign against illegal forestry a week before army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha declared martial law on May 20. Prayuth ordered the teak logging crackdown on May 14 “after two major forests were found to have been heavily deforested by gangs” in the northern part of the country. Army Lt. Gen. Preecha Chan-ocha—Prayuth’s younger brother—said “authorities were concerned that some local people were working with the poachers.”