Court lifts suspension orders against Voice TV, Free Youth

The suspension orders against Voice TV and Free Youth have been reviewed and lifted by the Criminal Court on 21 October.

The Court also said that Prachatai, the Reporters, and the Standard enjoy the same protection under the Constitution.

Section 35 (1) of the 2017 Constitution says that “a media professional shall enjoy the liberty to present news or express opinions in accordance with professional ethics.”

Section 35 (2) says that “the closure of a newspaper or other mass media in deprivation of the liberty under paragraph one shall not be permitted.”

The court on duty had ordered the suspension of Voice TV and Free Youth online activities at the request of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (DES). The DES claimed that Voice TV had violated the Computer Crimes Act and the restrictions set under the severe state of emergency. The DES did not mention which law was used against Free Youth. 

But the Chief Justice of the Criminal Court read the court order sent to him according to procedure and thought that the order may be incorrect, so the case was reopened. 

“The Court also said, specific to the media, that the freedom of the media is very important because it is a principle under the constitution and human rights,” said Winyat Chartmontri, the lawyer of Voice TV.

“The process of submitting the complaint did not specify which content or message is illegal. Because the court sees that for any blocking, there must be content specifying which statement is illegal, an entire channel cannot be blocked, blocking whatever station, page, or URL. This is considered beyond the scope of law.”

Crackdown on media backfires

On 19 October, Buddhipongse Punnakanta held a press conference saying that there are 300,000 URLs on social media which violate the law, including the Emergency Decree and the Computer Crimes Act, which they would prosecute indiscriminately.

Buddhipongse also confirmed a leaked document with the signature of Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk, the Royal Thai Police chief, which said that the government has ordered the police to consider censoring or closing Voice TV, Free Youth, Prachatai, the Reporter and the Standard, whose content allegedly violated restrictions set under the severe state of emergency.

The severe state of emergency was announced amid the ongoing protests in Thailand that began in July, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, constitutional amendments, and monarchy reform.

The government’s attempted crackdown on the media caused uproar on social media. #Saveสื่อเสรี (#savefreemedia) and #SaveVoiceTV topped Twitter’s trending in Thailand on 19-20 October.

Six journalist organizations issued a joint statement against the crackdown on media including the Thai Journalists Association, Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, Confederation of Thai Journalists, National Press Council of Thailand, News Broadcasting Council of Thailand, Online News Providers Association.

Deputy Permanent Secretary Puchapong Nodtaisong of the DES said on 20 October that the court had ordered the suspension of Voice TV and Free Youth. Voice TV said they would continue reporting despite the suspension order.

Free Youth, a Facebook page which protesters have been relying on to learn about the time and place of demonstrations, opened a substitute Facebook page which collected 300,000 subscribers in two days. It also opened a page and a group on Telegram.

In response, the DES has ordered the authorities to close 4 IP addresses of Telegram. Many Thai outlets reported that Telegram is impossible for even Russia to penetrate.

As social media erupted and people continued gathering on the street, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on 20 October that he had ordered the police to review the order to suspend media outlets by prioritizing freedom of the press. After his speech, the Criminal Court reviewed the order and lifted the suspension orders against Voice TV and Free Youth.