March 26, 2015 / 3:53 PM / in 3 years

U.S. 'troubled' by Thai leader's threat to execute journalists

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday it was troubled by reports that the head of Thailand’s military junta had threatened to execute journalists who do not report the truth and hoped he was not serious.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gestures during a speech at the Stock Exchange of Thailand in Bangkok February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power in a coup in May last year, told a gathering of reporters on Wednesday he would “probably just execute” journalists who did “not report the truth.”

He may have meant the comments in jest, but according to journalists present, he delivered them without a smile. Last month Prayuth said he had the power to shut down news outlets.

“We are of course troubled by reports that General Prayuth said that he would ‘execute’ journalists who do not report the ‘truth,’” a representative of the U.S. State Department said.

“We sincerely hope that this threat was not a serious one ... Statements like this, even if not serious, contribute to an atmosphere where ... freedoms are suppressed.”

It was the latest expression of U.S. concern about developments in Thailand, a long-time U.S. treaty ally.

Washington expressed dismay at the coup, froze $4.7 million of security-related assistance and canceled some high-level engagements. However, it is anxious to avoid hurting long-term ties with a country it considers an important strategic ally in Southeast Asia.

Prayuth is known for his abrupt manner and impulsive remarks. He launched a crackdown on dissenters after seizing power and has said Thailand is not ready to lift martial law, which gives the army sweeping powers of arrest and detention.

Activists say plainclothes police and military officers have visited the homes of at least 20 student protesters across Thailand in the past week in the toughest response to dissent since the days after the coup.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by David Storey and Matthew Lewis

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