Thailand steps up its web surveillance
BANGKOK: Thai “cyber-scouts” have flagged scores of websites for alleged royal defamation since the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and are monitoring all communication channels, a junta official said yesterday. A crackdown on perceived royal insults has been enforced following the king’s death last Thursday, which has plunged the nation into mourning for a beloved monarch.
Thailand’s monarchy is protected by a draconian lese majeste law that outlaws criticism and muzzles detailed discussion on the monarchy-including by all media based in Thailand. Surveillance by authorities is routine but appears to have been stepped up. There have also been vigilante actions by pockets of royalist hardliners. Police say they have opened a dozen cases under Section 112 — the broadly worded royal defamation law that carries up to 15 years in jail for each infringement-since the king died aged 88. But the number may rise as authorities scour the internet for infringements of the law.
“During this time we have centers to monitor 24 hours a day,” Prajin Jantong, a deputy prime minister, told reporters. “We are monitoring all channels, websites, all communication channels including LINE,” he added, referring to the messaging app widely used by Thais. On October 14 officials found 52 websites deemed to have broken the law and the following day 61 websites were flagged, he said, adding “some were closed” using special powers granted to the junta.
“When (the public) sees these kinds of website, they should inform authorities and do not like or share them,” Prajin said, adding some of the sites were hosted outside the country. Prosecutions for lese majeste have surged under the military which seized power two years ago, with record-breaking sentences handed down in some cases. Critics say the junta has largely targeted its political opponents.
Thais have been overwhelmingly dignified in grief following the king’s death, with people donning black and so far abiding by an order to “tone down” the country’s nightlife and entertainment. But concerns about a lese majeste witch-hunt have grown since the king’s death. Five videos have emerged of angry mobs beating people alleged to have insulted the monarchy. In the latest example of mob justice, a live broadcast on Facebook on Tuesday morning showed a man dragged, kicked and forced to prostrate himself in front of a portrait of the king for allegedly insulting the monarchy in a social media post.
The same day Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya urged Thais to “socially sanction” those who defame the monarchy, pledging to track down “those people who violate the law”. But on Wednesday the junta sent a more conciliatory message. “The Prime Minister (Prayut Chan-O-Cha) is upset over attacking clips,” junta spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd told reporters. “By attacking people it damages our image in the eyes of foreigners,” he said. —AFP