Amnesty attacks Thai junta ban on online contact with dissidents

  • Thailand
  • Thursday, 13 Apr 2017

BANGKOK: Amnesty International has slammed an unprecedented ban by Thailand’s junta on using the internet to communicate with three trenchant critics of the monarchy, saying authorities had hit new lows in curbing free speech.

The new order makes any online interaction with the trio in the Kingdom -- including contacting them, and following or sharing their social media posts -- a jailable offence under the Computer Crime Act.

The critics covered by the order are two respected Thai academics Somsak Jeamteerasakul and Pavin Chachavanpongpun, as well as ex-reporter Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

All have extensive online followings, are fierce critics of the military government that has ruled since 2014 and live in self-exile as they would face lese majeste charges inside Thailand for criticising the monarchy.

Thailand’s monarchy, headed by new King Maha Vajiralongkorn is already protected by one of the world’s harshest royal defamation laws, which carries 15 years in jail per charge.

“The Thai authorities have plunged to new depths in restricting people’s freedom of expression,” Josef Benedict, AI’s Deputy Director for Southeast Asia, said in a statement late Wednesday as the order was circulated by Thai media.

“After imprisoning people for what they say both online and offline, and hounding critics into exile, they want to cut people off from each other altogether.”

A senior official at the Ministry of Digital Economy denied the order raised the bar for repression in the country.

“This is to benefit the people so they can search for the right information... and use their judgement so that it (the order) will not affect them,” Somsak Khaosuwan told reporters late Wednesday.

All media based in Thailand must routinely self-censor to stay within the law.

It has been liberally used against royal and government critics since the military knocked out the civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra nearly three years ago.

Thailand’s junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha has outlawed political organising, cornering his opponents.

Junta critics have been tied up with legal cases or jailed for breaching draconian laws.

Analysts say elections slated for next year will not bring real democracy.

Instead they will be held under a newly promulgated charter that strengthens the army’s hand over the country with an appointed upper house and toughened powers for the kingdom’s highly politicised courts -- which have taken out three prime ministers in just over a decade.

Thais are closely watching the actions of Vajiralongkorn, who took the throne after the death of his much-loved father Bhumibol Adulyadej in October last year.

He delayed signing the charter to add clauses bolstering his power in the time of a “crisis” and allowing him to appoint a regent when overseas.

The new king spends much of his time in Germany, where he is the frequent fascination of local paparazzi. -AFP

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