Thai junta projecting weakness by banning on online contact with critics – watchdog
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Thai junta projecting weakness by banning on online contact with critics – watchdog

THAILAND’s move to ban the public from any online contact with three outspoken critics of the monarchy indicates the military government is weak and fears criticism, human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) said.

Josef Benedict, AI’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said instead of learning from criticism, the government “plunged to fresh depths” by further tightening the noose on free expression.

“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,” he said in a statement.

“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.”

On Wednesday, Thailand’s Digital Economy and Society Ministry issued an unprecedented warning to citizens, saying they would face prosecution if they had any form of online interaction with historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, journalist and author Andrew MacGregor Marshall, and former diplomat Pavin Chachavalpongpun.

The trio are known critics of the government, having courted trouble in the past with their writings on the monarchy. According to Khaosod English, Somsak sought exile in a foreign country following the military’s 2014 coup, while Pavin lectures at a Japanese university. Marshall is a former Thailand-based journalist who published a book on the monarchy.

The government in its warning said anyone who follows, contacts, or shares posts online with the three whether “directly or indirectly” would be prosecuted under the Computer Crimes Act.

“Members of the public are asked to refrain from following, contacting, spreading or engaging in any activity that results in spreading content and information of the persons mentioned in this announcement on the Internet system, social media; either directly or indirectly,” the ministry’s statement read, as quoted by Khaosod.

But although the ministry said contact with the three violated the Computer Crime Act, the order did not cite any legal basis, Khaosod reported.

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The Act, which was recently amended to tighten online freedoms, has been heavily criticised by rights advocates and media groups in the kingdom. Benedict in his statement also noted that in March, the UN Human Rights Committee had raised concerns about the kingdom’s arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression, including the Computer Crimes Act.

“Rather than drawing lessons from the criticism, they (the junta) are pressing ahead with their repressive tactics,” he said.