The Thai government has banned sharing news that “causes fear in the public,” even if those reports are true, as officials face mounting criticism for their handling of the pandemic.
On Thursday, the government toughened an emergency decree imposed more than a year ago that initially targeted fake news. The latest restrictions prohibit people from distributing “information that causes public fear” or sharing “distorted information that causes misunderstandings that affect national stability.”
The measures have been widely condemned by media groups and rights experts as an attempt to shut down negative news and silence the debate. Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher on Thailand at Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, described it as a “severe blow” to press freedom in the country.
“I think the government realizes that it is now facing a credibility crisis due to this disastrous response to the Covid situation, but instead of trying to find better solutions, more efficient solutions, it chooses to gag anyone from speaking up. about his faults, “Sunai said. . “This provision is not concerned with accuracy or whether it is true or false.”
Under the regulations, if bogus content is spread online, the country’s broadcasting regulator will contact internet service providers to identify the person’s ISP address and block their internet access.
Non-compliant Internet providers will be deemed to have breached their operating license requirements and action will be taken against them.
Sunai said he feared the measures would be used against online reporters and critics who use social media to share news and political comments that do not flatter the government.
The measures come as Thailand struggles to contain an increasingly serious Covid outbreak that has overwhelmed hospitals and caused economic misery.
The government has faced particular criticism for its delayed vaccination campaign: approximately 5% of the population is fully vaccinated. Images of people dying on the street have circulated online, fueling public anger at the government.
Officials warned the public about posting such images and cracked down on celebrities who criticized their response.
Tipanan Sirichana of the Prime Minister’s Office of the Secretary said on Thursday that members of the public who violated the emergency decree or the Cybercrime Act while commenting on the Covid situation could face fines or imprisonment. People should verify the source of social media images before sharing them, he said, adding that “you can get involved in the distribution of distorted information that creates chaos and discourages people who are working.”
Deputy Police Spokesperson Pol Col Kissana Phathanacharoen said that while “quite a few” images shared online showed Covid victims who had died on the streets, there were also “many” [instances of] distorted information out there ”. One image that circulated online was of a drunk person, he said.
“The authorities have been working day and night with the Ministry of Economy and Digital Society to repress those who have malicious intentions,” he added.
He said the emergency measure would not be used to target truthful reports. “If you share real information, but that information causes chaos in society, that’s absolutely fine,” Kissana said.
In recent weeks, officials have targeted online influencers and celebrities who have criticized their handling of the increasingly serious outbreak in the country. Teen rapper Danupa Khanatheerakul, known as Milli, paid 2,000 baht after being accused of defaming Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha by criticizing the government’s response. Yutthalert Sippaphak, a prominent film director, is also reportedly facing a complaint, while Miss Grand Thailand 2020, Patcharporn Chantharapradit, said she had received a police summons.
On Friday, 17,345 cases of Covid-19 were reported, with 117 deaths. The total deaths in the country has risen to 4,679, up from fewer than 100 deaths just four months ago. The latest wave has been driven by the more infectious Delta variant and exacerbated by the delayed vaccination schedule.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism