A person cosplaying as the Statue of Liberty faces a police blockade during the 24 June 2021 demonstration.

New government order penalizes sharing information regardless of validity

Beside curfews and lockdowns in many locations, the 27th regulation under the Emergency Decree also imposes a 2-year jail sentence and/or a fine of up to 40,000 baht for anyone who spreads information or news that causes public fear or affects national security. 

People with the security vests observing the protest at the SCB headquarters. (File photo) 

Issued on 12 July, Section 11 imposes “measures to prevent distortion of information which causes misunderstanding under the state of emergency.”

 

“The presentation of news or dissemination of books, printed matter or other media containing information that may cause fear among the people, or with the intention to distort information or news to cause misunderstanding under the state of emergency in such a way that affects national security or public order or the good morals of the people throughout the kingdom is an offence.”

The regulation raises concern over shrinking civic space at a time where the slow vaccination rollout, lack of testing and high rates of Covid-19 infection have overwhelmed the public health system, causing people to express grievance, anger and calls for the immediate import of mRNA vaccines and self-testing kits.

iLaw, the Thai legal watchdog NGO, posted on its Facebook page that this regulation derives from earlier information control regulations issued during the state of emergency in 2020 which outlawed only incorrect information. As “incorrect information” has been removed from the current regulation, it raises questions about the prosecution of information distribution regardless of its validity.

iLaw added that at least 4 people have been prosecuted under the previous regulation for Facebook posts.

The new regulation also imposes a 21.00 - 04.00 curfew in Bangkok, Nakhon Pathom, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and Songkhla provinces. Various workers such as in public health, logistics, mass transit and essential services are allowed to travel during curfew.

Similar to the previous nationwide curfew issue in 2020, the media professionals are not on the exempt list. The press and others not on the list must acquire an official letter on a case-by-case basis in order to travel legally during curfew.

Amnesty International also give a concern over this curfew and the new censorship regulations. It calls on authorities to use these restrictions solely to address worsening rates of Covid-19 infection and not to arbitrarily or disproportionately penalise individuals for peacefully exercising their rights.

“Thai authorities must address Covid-19 through measures that are human rights compliant, using restrictions only as long as they are proportionate, temporary and clearly limited to what is necessary to protect public health,” said Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns.

“While the right to freedom of peaceful assembly may be restricted as part of necessary efforts to protect public health, individuals facing charges for breaching social distancing measures in order to peacefully assemble must never face prison sentences.”

“Moreover, people should be able to comment freely on social media about the government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis without any fear of facing criminal charges.”

As of 13 July, there are 353,712 cases of infection, 95,410 hospitalizations and 2,847 deaths. As of 11 July, 9,301,407 have received one vaccine dose and 3,267,806 have received 2 doses.

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