Thailand’s junta has announced a ban on all online interaction with three exiled critics.
The Digital Economy and Society Ministry said citizens could be prosecuted for engaging online with Thai historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul and former diplomat Pavin Chachavalpongpun and journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall.
Pavin told Reuters that the announcement showed “desperation” on the part of the monarchy and junta. Marshall said: “I believe Thais should be free to read information from all sources and make up their own mind about what they believe.”
The three live outside the kingdom but have numerous online followers of their work on the junta and monarchy.
The ministry announced that citizens should not follow, contact or share content from them and those breaching the order could be prosecuted under the Computer Crime Act.
The three major Thai mobile operators, Advanced Info Service (AIS), Total Access Communication (DTAC) and True Move posted instructions on how to report royal insults seen on Facebook.
Somsak has written extensively about the monarchy and Marshall is the author of 2014’s A Kingdom in Crisis, which is banned in Thailand.
Open discussion of the king is illegal under draconian lese majeste laws and commentators have been given decades-long jail terms.
A student activist, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, who was charged in December for sharing a BBC profile of the new king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, on Facebook, remains in jail having been refused bail.
After the death of former king Bhumibol Adulyadej last October, the Thai authorities held a meeting with Google to call for anti-monarchy content to be blocked. The Daily Mail’s website is unavailable for allegedly unfavourable reporting on the monarchy.
There have been a surge in lese-majeste prosecutions since the military seized power in 2014.
Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director, said the junta had “plunged to fresh depths” by attempting to restrict the freedom of expression with the new ban.
Benedict said: “After imprisoning people for what they say both online and offline, and hounding critics into exile, they want to cut people off from each other altogether. The move doesn’t reveal strength, but a weakness and fear of criticism. In its determination to silence all dissent, the Thai authorities are resorting to extreme measures that brazenly flout international human rights law.”
Somsak Khaosuwan of the digital ministry denied that the new order restricted freedoms.
“This is to benefit the people so they can search for the right information … and use their judgement so that [the order] will not affect them,” the senior civil servant said.
The Thai authorities have no intention of allowing a repeat of earlier political protests. Picture credit: Wikimedia