Thai­land steps up its web sur­veil­lance

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

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.

Witch-hunt

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

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