By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Thailand's internet freedom has slipped from "partly free" last year to "not free" this year, placing it among the ranks of China, Vietnam, Iran and Libya in that category, according to the latest annual report by Freedom House.
“After the coup, the NCPO [National Council for Peace and Order] made dozens of arrests, stepped up digital surveillance, infringed on online privacy and create a climate of fear where Internet users conducted an on and offline “witch hunt” against fellow citizens,” the Washington DC-based organisation stated.
Freedom House noted that charges of lese majeste and computer-related crimes brought by Internet users against fellow citizens increased along with political detention. “In the month after the coup, there were at least five cases of a lese majeste charge added when an individual was already in detention. Three notable ones involved digital content.”
Even those who use the Internet anonymously have come under threat since the May 22 coup, the organisation noted.
“In late May, the MICT reportedly proposed to establish a single national gateway to the International Internet to expedite monitoring and censorship online content that is deemed illegal. Reports in June 2014 said MICT officials were consulting with vendors to implement plans, which would require every Thai citizen to authenticate their identity using their smart ID cards before logging onto the Internet.”
Another control method cited by Freedom House was surveillance to capture personal data.
“In early July 2014, many Thai Internet users found that visiting blocked websites prompted a screen with a TCSD logo and a message explaining it had been censored. Attempting to close the message triggered a request for consent to share the user’s personal data, apparently through a Facebook app titled Login. Clicking “Agree” automatically compromised users’ Facebook account details.” Calls are also made for Internet users to uncover suspicious activity online. Harassment outside the legal system is also taking place and the organisation cited the case of historian Somsak Jiamteerasakul, now in self-exile, who is known for posting critical remarks on the highest institution.
Despite the ongoing surveillance, blocking of websites and prosecutions of Internet users, Freedom House noted that the Internet is increasingly becoming a major venue for political debate along with notable resistance to state’s restriction.
“Online activists have proved resilient and creative in countering
limits on content. Circumvention software to access blocked sites is readily available online, and content producers often republish information on