Amnesty: Online freedom no better since election

Amnesty: Online freedom no better since election

'Problematic laws' including Computer Crime Act enable continuing harassment

Half a decade of military rule may have given way to an elected government, but authorities in Thailand continue to excessively restrict freedom of expression online, according to Amnesty International.

In a new 26-page report titled “They Are Always Watching”, Amnesty notes that many people hoped the elections in March last year would lead to an improved climate for free expression.

“Yet one year into the premiership of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, Thailand’s elected government is showing no signs of loosening its grip on freedom of expression online,” it said.

“Rather than breaking with the established pattern of criminalising content critical of the authorities, the government is continuing to prosecute people simply for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression online and harassing and intimidating online users.”

While there has been a pause in recent years in cases brought against individuals under the strict lèse majesté law — Article 112 of the Criminal Code — Amnesty says the government continues to using other broadly worded laws to stifle online expression deemed injurious to the monarchy. 

“Vague provisions in problematic laws such as the Computer Crime Act and Article 116 of the Thai Criminal Code (sedition) leave the door open for the government to threaten critics with five years and seven years in prison, respectively, while the authorities’ criminalisation of defamation provides another avenue for them to stifle voices of dissent,” it said.

Amnesty also expressed concern about the implications of the recent imposition of a state of emergency to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak. “Prime Minister Prayut warned of prosecutions for ‘abuse of social media’, deepening concerns that authorities may file lawsuits against individuals for criticising the government’s response to the virus,” it said.

The concerns raised by Amnesty come just a few days after Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its annual World Press Freedom Index. It ranked Thailand 140th out of 180 countries, one place behind Myanmar and just four places above Cambodia.

Singapore, meanwhile, fell seven places to 158th on the list. RSF said the city-state’s “Orwellian ‘fake news’ law” was the main reason it now joined the likes of Vietnam (175), China (177), North Korea (180) and other countries coloured black on the press freedom map.

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