Army accused of conducting propaganda campaigns against government’s political opponents

Reporting by Jasmine Chia and Cod Satrusayang

Thailand’s coalition government, as well as the former military junta, was accused by the opposition of using taxpayer money to fund the Thai army’s intelligence units in conducting ‘Information Operation’ (IO) campaigns against political opponents and the public.

Former Future Forward MP Wiroj Lakkhana Adisorn, said late Tuesday that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and his government were using government funds to harass the public, inciting divisions and intentionally undermining the unity of the people.

This, he alleged, was part of an IO campaign in which Prayut and the army had been systematically disseminating propaganda to the public, using taxpayer baht.

Defence ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantrawanit told Thai Enquirer on Wednesday that the armed forces would not respond to such accusations, labeling it “a matter for politicians.”

“This was an issue that was raised in parliament, so let it be answered in parliament. It is better that way,” he told Thai Enquirer.

Wiroj shared multiple pieces of evidence – including a clip in which army officials confessed to their involvement in the IO campaign, private LINE chats among army officials encouraging the dissemination of fake news, and official government documents relating to the campaign.

Among the documents shared, one encouraged government officials to create fake avatars or fake social media pages to offer counter narratives and act as ‘martyrs.’

Pages and accounts that had the most followers were awarded – for example two awards of 3,000 baht each were given out, according to the documents presented by Wiroj.

These efforts have echoes of Beijing’s alleged 2 million ‘50c’ social media warriors – except with a much lower budget, although a government budget, nonetheless.

“I thought ‘martyrs’ was a term used with enemies,” Wiroj asserted, “here, the government is acting as cyber martyrs against the people.”

Documents from the Ministry of Finance were also shared, which showed government funding for a divisive website.

The website in question, pulony.blogspot.com, has a trilingual banner that labels itself “The Truth from the Southern Provinces,” replete with a photomontage of laughing Muslim children, military men and flames.

The first article on the site asks, “Do we have too much freedom on social media today?” The website has multiple other articles praising the military’s role in the South and criticising the work of human rights activists and NGOs.

There were further official government reports on the website’s progress toward achieving IO objectives.

A list of Facebook pages under army surveillance also came to light, with pages clearly marked ‘In Support of the Government’ or ‘Against the Government’.

Popular pages such as iLaw Club, M.L. Nattakorn Devakula, and John Winyu’s page were on the list of government detractors.

According to Prachatai, some of this evidence dates back to documents published by the Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) in 2018 on the government’s extensive IO campaign that intended to spread divisive information about a pro-democracy rally in February 2018.

The public disclosure of these documents in a closely watched censure debate inspired the hashtag #กระชากหน้ากาก, which went viral as the debate closed near midnight.

The hashtag #อภิปรายไม่ไว้วางใจรัฐบาล went from 400,000 tweets yesterday to nearly 2 million tweets as of February 26.

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