Thai workers look at job advertisements in Bangkok
Thai junta passes controversial cyber-crime law
December 16, 2016
Thailand's rubber-stamp parliament on Friday passed a controversial cyber-crime law that critics say strengthens the junta's ability to police the web and squeeze out criticism.
Free expression has been severely cramped since the generals seized power in 2014.
The junta has banned protests, muzzled the press, blocked scores of websites and used already stringent cyber and defamation laws to prosecute critics over everything from Facebook comments to investigative reports on rights abuses.
Despite strong public criticism, the junta-appointed parliament on Friday voted to unanimously pass an updated version of the Computer Crimes Act, with 167 yes votes and five abstentions.
"I can reassure that this law is important and necessary but will absolutely not violate personal rights," said lawmaker Chatchawal Suksomjit, a former top cop who drove through the bill.
Thailand's new king Maha Vajiralongkorn will have to sign it off before it becomes law.
The government has said the law needed to be modernised.
But rights groups warn that the revised version is even more vaguely-worded than its predecessor, broadening the scope of the government's surveillance and censorship powers.
It allots up to five years in prison for entering "false information into a computer system that jeopardises national security, public safety, national economic stability or public infrastructure, or causes panic", according to a version of the law provided by Thai Netizen Network, an internet freedom advocacy group.
One of the most controversial additions is the creation of a five-person committee that can seek court approval to remove online content considered a breach of "public morals".
"The definition (of this term) is not written in any law, it is just up to the committee," said Arthit Suriyawongkul of the Thai Netizen Network, which helped collect more than 300,000 signatures opposing the bill.
"It's going to be very difficult for people to know what they can and cannot say. It could also be very inconsistent from one government to another," he added.
Another new clause empowers authorities to request user and traffic data from internet service providers without a court warrant, raising privacy concerns.
Prosecutions under both the Computer Crime Act and Thailand's tough royal defamation law have skyrocketed since the junta's power grab, often netting social media users.
According to watchdog Fortify Rights, there have been at least 399 prosecutions under the computer law in 2016 compared to 46 in 2013, the year before the junta grabbed power.
WORLD NEWS | Fri Dec 16, 2016 |
Thailand passes amendment to cyber law despite opposition
Thailand's parliament passed legislation amending a cyber crime law on Friday, which rights groups have criticized as likely to lead to more extensive online monitoring by the state.
Thailand's military government has ramped up online censorship since it seized power in a 2014 coup, in particular to block perceived insults to the royal family.
Thailand has some of the world's toughest laws against royal insult, which has curtailed public discussion about the monarchy's role following the Oct. 13 death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was seen as a unifying figure.
Since the death of King Bhumibol, authorities have shut down hundreds of websites carrying what they consider contentious or critical material about the monarchy in a bid to ensure a smooth royal transition.
The government is also sensitive about what it sees as criticism of the military's role in politics, and opposition to its seizure of power in 2014.
The National Legislative Assembly voted unanimously to pass an amendment to the 2007 Computer Crime Act in a third reading.
"Parliament agreed to enact the draft amendment," said Peerasak Porchit, the NLA's vice president, at the end of a televised parliamentary session.
Critics say the amendment raises the likelihood of increased censorship and arbitrary invasion of privacy.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has defended the need for cyber controls, dismissing the suggestion it constituted a violation of rights.
The amendments, seen by Reuters, would allow state officials to obtain user and traffic data from service providers without court approval.
Any websites seen as a threat to national security or "offend people's good morals" can also be removed or suspended.
Previously, the law said officials needed court approval to remove content.
Yingcheep Atchanont of the legal monitoring group iLaw said the revised law would extend control over cyberspace and dissent.
"Blocking websites and persecuting critics ... will make us unable to criticize the government at all," he told Reuters.
An online petition led by the Thai Netizen Network, an internet freedom advocacy group, gained more than 360,000 signatures and was handed to the assembly on Thursday.
The amendment will be submitted to King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who succeeded his father on Dec. 1, for royal endorsement.
Parliament is due to consider a cyber security bill and a data protection bill next year. Critics have said both raise more privacy concerns.
The military government has promised to hold an election next year.
(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Robert Birsel)