In the wake of the death of long-serving King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s newly formed Ministry of Digital Economy and Society has begun a mass-crackdown of online content. Authorities have reported that this measure has been taken as part of the country’s lese majeste laws, with one spokesperson for the Ministry of Information saying:
“Many heartbroken Thais are quite sensitive. When they see illegal content that offends them, they’ll be more stressed”
As of the 30th of October, five citizens had been arrested, twenty two were being investigated, and further 19 were sought to be extradited to the country in the wake of the king’s death. At least 900 websites have been blocked through various legal channels.
Although information critical of the monarchy has been suppressed, uncensored online posts show ‘ultra-royalist’ violence against those deemed not deferential enough to the late monarch. Even Google has been complicit in censoring YouTube videos at the request of the government.
Censorship of the web within Thailand is covered using many criminal codes. Code 113 deals with lese majeste offenses, but the far broader Computer Crimes Act has seen numerous arrests of citizens for online activity.
Section 44 of the 2014 interim constitution of Thailand, which was used to shut down 200 of the 900 websites blocked in October, is even broader in its language, stating that any action can be taken “for the sake of the reforms in any field, the promotion of love and harmony amongst the people in the nation, or the prevention, abatement or suppression of any act detrimental to national order or security, royal throne, national economy or public administration, whether the act occurs inside or outside the kingdom”.
Freedom House rated Thailand in their 2015 Freedom on the Net report as ‘not free’, noting that in 2015 the harshest sentences in the country’s history were given out for breaking lese majeste laws, 50 & 60 years respectively, until they were reduced to 20 and 30 on ‘confession’. The human right’s group Fortify Rights obtained information that there had been over 399 convictions under the Computer Crimes Act in 2016 alone – a sharp increase from the 321 for all over 2015, and at a grossly larger proportion than the six in 2011, when the law was introduced.