[Update-1] Celebrities join forces online to criticize Thai government

#ดาราcallout (Celebrities Call Out) was trending online Thursday, as netizens and celebrities joined forces in criticizing the Thai government for its attempts to suppress freedom of speech.

This came after Minister of Digital Economy and Society Chaiwut Thanakhamanusorn on Wednesday threatened to sue Thai celebrities and influencers who “attack the government” via social media, for creating fake news and spreading disinformation.

Such celebrities “keep saying that people are dying from Covid-19 because the vaccines we have are ineffective, and that’s the government’s fault. But is that true? Please don’t look at it from one side only,” said the minister. “Celebrities are well-loved by the people, please don’t try to use your platforms to influence them politically.”

So far, 20 celebrities have been summoned by the police over cyber law-related charges, including famous 18-year-old rapper Danupha ‘Milli’ Khanatheerakul who was to report to the police Thursday morning, prompting #Saveมิลลิ (#SaveMilli) to trend internationally on Twitter.

These threats and actions, however, have massively backfired, as regular netizens and celebrities alike have taken to social media to share their grievances and to condemn the government even more for attempting to strip the people of their right to free speech.

“Does safety exist in this country? People are dying more and more every day. Whenever we try to show you evidence, you forbid us from doing so. And the officials are never on the same page about anything,” wrote actor and singer Suppasit ‘Mew’ Jongcheveevat on Twitter. “How can citizens have confidence in [the government’s] actions then? The taxes that we pay are for you to take care of us, not yourselves.”

“What did [the government] expect people to do when you’ve failed to take care of your citizens in these times of crisis? Of course, everyone from every profession is going to call you out on it,” added a netizen. “Just because you don’t like what the celebs are saying doesn’t mean that it’s ‘fake news’.”

Others have also questioned whether the government will be fact-checking its own agencies and officials and punishing them by law should they be found spreading false information as well.

With many of the celebrities who have spoken out having large fanbases overseas, the issue has also gained traction internationally. Much of the content has been translated and shared widely by foreign netizens and influencers, many of whom are now speaking out against the Thai government and criticizing it for violating its citizens’ basic rights.

“For those who are still asking why it’s important for celebs to speak up and call the government out, please see and understand that the platforms and influences they have are huge and can help drive our movement forward,” wrote one netizen. “Like it or not, having them speak up is good for us.”

“The government should know this: the more you try to silence us, the louder we’ll all continue to speak,” added another.

As of noon Thursday, Milli has been fined 2,000 baht for defaming Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha. Authorities said that they will not be pursuing other cases.

Thailand also broke its record for Covid-19 with a further 13,655 cases and 87 deaths over the previous 24 hours. There have been 424,269 cases and 3,603 deaths since the current, third wave started April 1.

At the time of writing, the hashtag #ดาราcallout had garnered more than 976,000 tweets.

UPDATE: Chaiwut has since retracted his original threats and released a statement via his personal Facebook page, saying that celebrities and influencers are allowed to call the government out without being punished.

He was just “worried” that the people will believe everything that celebrities say without fact-checking.

“All citizens are, of course, allowed to make comments and give the government feedback. We’ve always done and followed through with what the people want,” reiterated the Minister.

“Let’s cooperate with and encourage each other, so we can fight Covid-19 together,” he added.

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