Recently Thailand’s military government has doubled-down on efforts to restrict freedom of speech and privacy within their country in an attempt to silence critics. In August of last year, government official Takorn Tantasith announced that all foreigners stepping foot in Thailand would be obligated to carry a government-assigned SIM card with permanently unlocked locational tracking. While he claims that a court order would be required to access this data, the establishment of new cyber-laws have potentially opened the door for full-time civilian surveillance by the military. Tanatasith claims that Thais don’t need the new SIM card due to the ease with which the government can already track them, a concerning prospect.
These new cyber-laws, established under the new Computer-Related Crime Act (CCA), give extensive powers to the government to censor and otherwise persecute individuals with dissenting opinions. The Act, passed unanimously by a junta-appointed assembly last month, will certainly exasperate the prosecution of activists—hundreds of which have already been punished in the past couple years without the aid of these new restrictions. The Act employs ambiguous terms, allowing one to be arrested for sharing “distorted or partially distorted” information online. Service providers under these new laws are required to remove any posts categorized by the government in any of the aforementioned criteria. To ensure that nothing slips by, the CCA also grants the power to the government to delete any non-illegal content if deemed “inappropriate” for any reason by an appointed committee.
The government recently displayed the extent of power granted by these new laws by arresting a student for posting to Facebook portions of a BBC article that mentions the king’s personal life. Under Thailand’s lèse-majesté policy, these individuals can be charged for insulting the king—a policy that is easily taken advantage of to silence would-be objectors. After being met with considerable opposition, the government has stated that citizens posting or sharing criticisms of the CCA could be persecuted under the CCA for “public disturbances [due to]…false information.”
These internet crack-downs are part of a larger movement by the junta government to suppress their people’s role in government. Last year Thailand’s government established their 20th constitution in 84 years, quietly seizing power from the people and vesting it in the military. The military can now appoint all 250 senators, issue unchecked emergency decrees, and veto all political bodies. The referendum passed with 61 percent of the vote, but the Thai government arrested activists and banned the spread of “false information” in the media leading up to the voting. Political rallies, independent campaigns, and open discussion or criticisms of the draft were also banned. Voters were also asked if the prime minister should be selected by an appointed Senate; due to the widespread fear of instability following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, this proposal was passed by a margin of 16 percent.
By promising limitations of the power of appointed politicians, the junta government was able to facilitate its own power by tapping into the ‘bad taste’ in the mouths of Thais after the corrupt dealings of previous Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Recently sentenced to two years of imprisonment for corruption, Shinawatra fled to England where he is now facing extradition requests by the new military government. While the major players of the Thai ‘gang-government’ have changed, the game has not; Thai citizens still continue to fall victim to a government clinging to power at the expense of the country.
According to Time Magazine, coups cost the Thai economy 3.4 percent GDP in the two following years and cut national incomes by 7 percent. When one considers the fact that Thailand is statistically likely to have a coup every 4.5 years, it is easier to understand why the new government has been so successful at rallying support for what was touted as uncorrupt political stability. With an estimated $53 billion in assets at stake in the royal trust, it has been speculated that the military has been forced to take strong action to stabilize the country following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, yet the new laws seem to specifically favor the military over the general sentiments of the country, which will likely lead to disorder in the near future.