Despite its Information Operations (IOs) being caught and deleted by Facebook and Twitter , the Royal Thai Army (RTA) insists that soldiers are not allowed to express political views.
Soldiers with RTA riot control shields guarding the BTS platform (File Photo)
On 5 April, there were widespread reports of an interview given by Army Spokesperson Lt Gen Santipong Thampiya at RTA Headquarters about the protest by Sammakhi Prachachon Pheu Prathet Thai (People's Unity for Thailand) on 4 April led by Jatuporn Prompan, leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship a.k.a. the red shirts, and Adul Khieoboriboon, Chair of the Committee of Relatives of the Black May 1992 Victims.
Santipong cited RTA Regulation Number 388/2563 and the 1956 Ministry of Defence Regulation on Ministry Officials and Politics, which regulate political participation by military personnel. Those who violate the rules will be investigated by an army-appointed committee followed by criminal or disciplinary punishments.
The RTA has put up posters inside RTA Headquarters, listing do’s and don’ts.
- Membership of any political party must be reported to commanding officers all the way to the RTA Commander in Chief.
- Attendance at a political meeting in a personal capacity is allowed but uniforms must not be worn and it must take place outside officials hours.
- Duties must be performed with neutrality without expecting benefit from any specific political party and must be performed in line with government policies.
- Votes or expressions of personal opinions about political candidates are allowed.
- The expression of personal political opinions is allowed, but not in uniform or in official hours; public meetings can be attended peacefully.
- Do not commit any action of a kind that refers to, denigrates or mocks the institution [of the monarchy], the government or commanding officers.
- Do not wear a uniform or other clothing with any insignia showing military status to political party meetings or political gatherings of a political nature.
- Do not wear symbols or uniforms of political parties when entering government premises.
- Do not force subordinates, either directly or implicitly, to become members of any political party, and do not use rewards or punishments.
- Do not interfere in politics or use politics as a tool to carry out any activity.
- Do not express directly or implicitly anything to assist or support any candidate during an election period.
- Do not post any political message during official hours, on official premises, or using official computers, and do not use official accounts in political activities on social media.
Despite these regulations, the Thai military have been caught manipulating public political expression on social media. In its February 2021 Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Report, Facebook detected and removed 77 accounts, 72 pages, 18 groups and 18 Instagram accounts originating in Thailand, targeting audiences in the Southern provinces.
This network primarily posted news and events in Thai together with content supporting the Thai military and the monarchy, calls for non-violence, regional COVID-19 updates, allegations of violence by insurgent groups in Southern Thailand, and criticism of separatist independence movements and civil society organizations.
In October 2020, Twitter cooperated with the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) in an investigation and analysis which revealed that 926 accounts with 21,385 tweets linked to the RTA supported the government and the Army and targeted opposition parties and their allies, especially the Future Forward Party (FFP) and the Move Forward Party (MFP).
In the February 2020 parliamentary censure debate, Move Forward MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn exposed how the Prime Minister, through ISOC, had ordered IOs to sabotage activists and the peace process in the Deep South, a method which was later found to be used against opposition politicians and the pro-democracy movement.