On 2 June, the Minister of Digital Economy and Society (DES) Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn invited Internet Service Providers to acknowledge a court order to restrict access to or delete computer data of 8 allegedly illegal users on Facebook within 24 hours. Four days on, the pages of the targets remain accessible.
Andrew MacGregor Marshall, one of the targeted users, has posted on Facebook repeatedly that he is “still here.”
“Facebook uses https, so Thai ISPs can either block all of Facebook or none of it. They can’t selectively block pages,” said Marshall.
DES said that the court order ruled that restriction of access and deletion of data applied not merely to the Facebook accounts but also their Facebook IDs and IP addresses.
Chaiwut claimed that even if the allegedly illegal users started a new account, their posts would still be restricted or deleted. Anyone who shares their illegal posts will also be prosecuted.
The 8 users targeted by DES are Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Royalist Marketplace-Talad Luang, Suda Rangkupan, DK Ning, Aum Neko, KTUK - Thais in UK, and Pixel HELPER. The DES said that Thai historian-in-exile Somsak Jeamteerasakul will be their next target.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Aum Neko and Suda Rangkupan are Thai political exiles. Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a Scottish journalist critical of the Thai monarchy, cannot enter Thailand due to the risk of being prosecuted under the lèse majesté law. Noppawan Bunluesilp, Marshall’s wife and a Thai citizen, had to flee Thailand in 2016 with their son after being detained by the Thai authorities.
Royalist Marketplace-Talad Luang is a Facebook group of 2.2 million users critical of the monarchy created by Pavin Chachavalpongpun. KTUK – Thais in UK regularly shares contents of a similar kind. Pixel HELPER is a non-profit organization in Germany which has been working with Thai political exile Junya Yimprasert to hold anti-monarchy campaigns in Europe.
The DES’s ambitious move to treat allegedly illegal content produced abroad as being under Thai jurisdiction has been practised for a while now. However, it remains to be seen how they will enforce censorship against anti-government online speech posted abroad.
In August 2020, DES threatened to sue Facebook for violating the Computer Crime Act and not complying with official orders. In response, Facebook said that they would comply but also planned to countersue the Thai government for contravening international human rights law.
On 15 May, the Prime Minister Operations Centre said that 10 Facebook accounts posted fake news on regular basis and would be prosecuted. 8 accounts are covered by the court order while the other 2 belong to political activists in Thailand, Anon Nampa and Parit Chiwarak, now released on bail.
On 27 June, Marshall reported that he received a court summons via Facebook Messenger asking him to appear before a criminal court in Thailand on 27 May. On 1 June, Rungrat Pothitappa, a Thai political activist in the United Kingdom, received a similar court summons which asked her to appear before a Thai court on 7 June.
However, the story is different for dissidents in Thailand.
Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn became the Minister of Digital Economy and Society in place of Buddhipongse Punnakanta on 22 March 2021. Since then, DES has been extremely active in trying to take down allegedly illegal online speech.
On 12 May, Chaiwut ordered the prosecution of two Facebook users, Wadfhan Niphawan and Kathi Ja, and Twitter user @tuykallaya for sharing fake news which claimed that a woman in Udon Thani suffered severe side effects after receiving a Sinovac vaccination, but the photo used was of a patient in Lopburi who suffered side effects from other medications.
Chaiwut said that they must be prosecuted despite having taken down the misinformation and apologized for their posts. It turned out that Kathi Ja was an assistant editor of Thai PBS morning news. Chaiwut claimed that Thai PBS has spread fake news twice: on 24 April over Indians renting a whole airplane to come to Thailand during the pandemic and on 9 May over the effectiveness of vaccines against the African variant of Covid-19.
As the pandemic went out of control in India, Thai PBS reported a flight from New Delhi to Thailand on 24 April. Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesperson of the Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration, rejected the report on the same day saying that only Thais in India were eligible to apply.
It was later revealed by netizens that the Royal Thai Embassy in New Delhi had posted on Facebook on 17 April about an Air India flight with a complete list of passengers, the majority of which had Indian names. One person was found to be infected on 21 April while under quarantine.