The netizens of Thailand are living in a climate of fear with no rule of law and self-censorship everywhere, while US internet giants are cooperating with the military junta in the persecution of dissidents, according to speakers at the Thai Netizen Network end of year conference.
Assistant Professor Dr Pirongrong Ramasoot from Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of journalism said that the military government was engaging in rule by law, not rule of law. That is, the use of the computer misuse act and more recently sedition laws to crack down on all dissent and free speech online.
Thailand should be a natural location for a regional internet hub, but overcharging by state telco CAT Telecom for fiber landing and draconian interpretation of laws has scared everyone away.
“Since 2008, CAT has had an internet filtering system. MICT sources have told me that they are not worried about data in the country, but they are concerned with information flowing into the country,” she said.
Professor Pirongrong stated that post-coup, telecoms regulator the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission has joined in and has issued orders to its licensees to block certain sites.
She also noted a marked rise in vigilante groups such as the so-called garbage collection and cyber scouts that scour the internet for dissidents to turn over for persecution.
In a survey in one of her classes of English speaking students, 48 out of 55 admitted to self-censorship for fear of inadvertently falling foul of the law.
Chuwat Rerksirisuk, editor-in-chief of the Prachatai online newspaper said that instead of simply blocking news pages that they did not agree with as the previous Democrat government kept doing, the junta is bombarding him with criminal defamation lawsuits.
The biggest problem is that unlike in a multi-party democracy with different leaning factions within the ministries, leaks no longer happen under the current military government.
Sasinan Thammditinan from the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights who is involved in defending many Lese Majeste and sedition cases, said that since the coup these cases are tried in military courts without any appeal and the courts refuse to take into account the defence that the chain of custody in computer forensics has been broken.
Upon arrest, people are regularly forced for their Facebook and LINE passwords and their phones and notebooks taken.
Sasinan also pointed a finger of blame squarely at Microsoft Thailand for divulging users' private or identifying information in many of her cases. “The prosecutors love Microsoft as they give them all the information they ask for,” she said.
Facebook was also a problem, not officially, but there were enough Thais working inside Facebook for a steady stream of information about dissidents to make their way to the military prosecutors, she asserted.
Arnon Chalawan from iLaw said that since the coup 17 people had been prosecuted for article 112 of the criminal code for their Facebook activity. He said that in many cases it was the defendant pressing like rather than re-sharing the offending post that got them arrested.
Facebook sometimes promotes liked tweets to third parties and therein lies the problem. Criminal culpability requires intent and Facebook is the one promoting those posts in order to sell more online advertising, not the user who simply clicked like usually to just bookmark that post for future reference. However, that line of defence does not work in the military courts, he said.