Media, human rights lawyers ask court to annul PM's order

Media, human rights lawyers ask court to annul PM's order

Media representatives and human rights lawyers talk to reporters before filing a lawsuit at the Civil Court against a prime minister's order they say threatens press freedom and free speech. A message on the paper signs they hold reads
Media representatives and human rights lawyers talk to reporters before filing a lawsuit at the Civil Court against a prime minister's order they say threatens press freedom and free speech. A message on the paper signs they hold reads "a free press cures lies." (Photo: @HRLawyersTH Twitter account)

Media outlets and human rights lawyers petitioned the Civil Court on Monday to void a new prime ministerial order under the state of emergency decree that they believe threatens press freedom and freedom of expression.

They also asked for a court injunction temporarily freezing the use of the controversial order, pending a final judgement, on grounds the issue was critical to society as it posed a threat and instilled fear in the public.

Media representatives from digital platforms including The Reporters, Voice, The Standard and Prachathai, and lawyers from the Human Rights Lawyers Alliance filed the suit at the court, and named Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha as the offender.

The lawsuit said press freedom was under threat from the 29th announcement of the emergency decree. It alleged the prime minister had no authority to block internet providers. The country already had the Computer Crime Act to penalise offenders, the lawsuit said.

Announcement No.29 under the emergence decree, signed by the prime minister, took effect on Friday. It insructs authorities to order internet service providers to immediately block the internet access of anyone who propagates information that may "frighten people".

The government claimed harsh measures were needed to stop the spread of misinformation and fake news, but media orgainsations, academics and human rights advocates argue that the order could instead be use to silence the government's opponents and media outlets critical of government policy. 

The order was issued amid growing dissatisfaction with the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and its failure to provide enough vaccines and to curb transmission rates.

Six media organisations on Friday also threatened to step up legal and social pressure on the government if it refuses to lift what they see as restrictions on media freedom.

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