Amnesty International has released a 26-page briefing titled “They are always watching” in which it takes aim at the restrictions imposed by Prayut Chan-o-cha’s Thai Government in relation to the expression of freedom online.
The document accuses the Thai Government of prosecuting social media users who dare to criticize the government in a “systematic campaign to crush dissent.”
It also cites the current coronavirus pandemic as a tool being used by the Thai Government to exacerbate the silencing of critics online.
Thailand is enjoying its first democratically elected government in more than five years after general elections, which are showered in controversy, took place in March last year.
However, despite hope for improved free expression as a result of a democratically elected government, Thailand remains under the thumb of Prayut’s administration and their increased use of vague laws to prosecute peaceful critics.
While the infamous lèse majesté law (Article 112 of the Criminal Code) has been used less frequently in recent years, the report cites use of broader or vaguely-worded laws used to stifle online expression.
Amnesty International’s Senior Director of Research, Advocacy, and Policy, Clare Algar, said:
“Through harassment and prosecution of its online detractors, Thailand’s government has created a climate of fear designed to silence those with dissenting views.”
“The government’s attacks on freedom of expression online are a shameful attempt to escape scrutiny from those who dare to question them. And repression is escalating, with authorities seemingly using the covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to further quash criticism and unlawfully restrict human rights.”
An example of the brutal silencing taking place occurred on November 1st of last year when an activist was arrested and interrogated by 10 police officers for posting concerns about the Thai Government and Monarchy on Twitter, gaining 60,000 retweets.
She later deleted her Twitter account after posting a warning to the public saying, “I want to warn everyone to think before you tweet and retweet. There are people who are always watching.”
Her case ended with a forced signature saying she would be prosecuted if she posted something similar online again in the future.
The implications of the coronavirus emergency decree are another cause for concern according to Amnesty. They feel that the laws for the state of emergency are open to interpretation and could allow authorities to censor or edit the information they deem to be false.
Clare Algar suspects that the government will use these laws to oppress peaceful critics, saying “The Thai authorities must end the use of criminal laws against people who peacefully criticize them.”
The concerns raised by Amnesty come just days after Thailand ranked a lowly 140th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. Thailand’s neighbors, Myanmar ranked one place higher.
The full report from Amnesty International is available to download here.
Source: Amnesty International