Police have backed down on a threat to press charges against the artists behind the Rap Against Dictatorship project over the lyrics to their smash-hit song "Prathet Ku Mee".
Deputy police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said there was no evidence at this stage to charge the rappers -- so listening, singing and sharing Prathet Ku Mee was “legal for now”.
He spoke to Thai media after a meeting with technology crime suppression police on Monday.
Pol Gen Srivara said no one had been called in for questioning. “It’s not necessary for now. Don’t give it too much credit,” he said.
However, the deputy police chief said he would file a personal complaint against the rappers for accusing him of trying to arrest or summon them, and for making false accusations about the black panther case which is in court. “This damaged my reputation and created a misunderstanding among the public,” he said.
Pol Maj Gen Surachate "Big Joke" Hakparn, deputy director of the technology crime centre, posted on his personal Facebook that in this age, everyone is entitled to express opinions about anything.
“Phuyai (senior or powerful people) must accept the fact that ‘it is not possible to prohibit or restrict personal opinions’, especially among the youth. Adults should see them as views from another perspective that they should listen to.
“Those who believe this kind of freedom of expression might hurt the country or people’s feelings should also understand that prosecution must be based on facts. The artists -- and all sides -- must be treated fairly so everything is resolved smoothly,” he wrote late on Sunday.
The comments appeared to be a significant climbdown since both men earlier pledged to take legal action against the artists and those who shared the video under the computer crime law. They cited the offence of importing into a computer system false information which may damage national security or cause public panic, punishable by five years in jail or a fine not more than 100,000 baht.
The song finally caught the attention of the prime minister. During his visit to Phayao on Monday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha urged people not to pay attention to “social media buzz” but refused to refer to the song by its name or by the name of the group.
“Use your own judgement. Is it really that bad? Is life really that hard? Is it that oppressive? Am I so dictatorial? If I were a dictator, I wouldn't be here [to visit people]. I could just give orders somewhere else. Don’t let anyone distort the facts.
“If we appreciate it today, freedom without limits will turn against you, your family and your children in the future. Don’t let yourselves be a tool of others. If society is like this, I don’t think we can go on,” he said.
The song was first released on the iTunes Store on Oct 14, apparently to mark the 45th anniversary of the 1973 popular uprising against a coup-installed prime minister in which 77 people died.
The 5-minute music video was uploaded on YouTube last Monday and has since become a sensation across both the country and the world. Early on Tuesday, the number of views had soared to more than 21 million, with 793,000 likes and 18,000 dislikes - an almost unprecedented ratio of 97.7%.
And even that ratio was somewhat misleading. The video has been uploaded or linked directly by unknown thousands of social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and elsewhere, by users in Thailand and abroad, almost always in a positive manner. The real ratio is actually much closer to - but not exactly - 100%.
The music video became a hot topic, especially after the police and government came out to criticise it.
To protect themselves, the artists on Sunday disabled comments on the music video.
“After consulting with a legal team from the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Centre, we have a concern about comments on the video, which have reached 70,000.
“Several comments might be considered to violate not only laws against petty offences, but also the Criminal Code. So the legal team suggested we turn off comments, otherwise, they might affect us in the future,” they wrote.
Under Thai law, the host of a platform for public comments might be held responsible for defamation or other graver offences if it fails to act fast enough to delete inflammatory posts.
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