Freedom of expression in Thailand is still severely curtailed, rights group say

The Thai government has cracked down on freedom of expression and dissenting opinion ever since a military coup toppled a democratically elected government in 2014.

Even with a return to democracy in 2019, the government is still continuing to stifle dissent and opposing views, a new Amnesty International report said.

The report, titled, “They are always watching” outlines the curtailing of rights under the military junta and how that has continued under a government run by mostly the same generals that took power six years ago.

Challenges today

According to Amnesty, the government still views opposing viewpoints as a challenge to its rule and uses a wide array of legal and extra-legal methods to stifle expression. Among the most blatant was the launching of the Anti Fake News Center by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society.

The Fake News Center, according to an activist, has those that oppose the government questioning what they can or cannot say without violating the law.

“If I want to report fake news done by the government agency I would probably pause and say, “Are they going to retaliate against me somehow,” the activist told Amnesty.

“What’s worrying to me about the center is not so much that they’re going to produce fake news or disinformation because I haven’t seen that yet. But is this going to be a way to entrap some dissidents or people who volunteer information in good faith because of a total lack of transparency?”

The report also mentioned the challenges presented to media and activists by the current State of Emergency act which allows the government to censor or shut down narratives that are against the national interest.

Legal action

The report mentions several laws that have been used by the Prayut administration and the previous Prayut totalitarian state to prosecute activists.

Those are the Computer Crime Act of 2007, the Sedition Act, and the Criminal Defamation Act.

Thai Enquirer has previously reported on specific instances when the sedition act has been used to prosecute student activists for protesting against the coup. The Computer Crime Act and the Criminal Defamation Act have also been used by the government to stop criticism from social media and online media.

Amnesty recommendation

The Amnesty reports end with several recommendations for the Thai government including fully respecting the right to expression and dropping all criminal charges against political figures, human rights defenders, and journalists.

Amnesty also recommends making the Anti-Fake News Centre completely independent of the government.

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