In a rare move, a Thai court on Friday blocked a new Prime Minister’s order to clamp down on alleged fake news it says is causing “public fears” or “undermining state security” during the COVID pandemic -19.
The Bangkok Civil Court filed the injunction in response to a petition filed Monday by 12 Thai media portals asking it to revoke Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s decree, which came into effect last week. No date has been set for considering the revocation request.
In its ruling, the court noted that the government decree would authorize “the deprivation of the rights and liberty of complainants and constitutionally protected persons.”
“[T]the expression “information presenting a risk of scaring people” as indicated in such [an] Article is ambiguous and opens up the possibility of a broad interpretation, ”said the court injunction.
This would make “complainants, people and those working in the media field unconfident in expressing their opinion and communicating in accordance with the freedom protected by… the constitution,” the court said.
He also said the executive order did not allow Prayuth, as prime minister, to suspend internet services.
“The importance of internet access is recognized throughout society, especially in the current situation of the coronavirus disease pandemic (COVID-19) and the enforcement of lockdown measures,” the court said. , adding that the government was able to educate people during the pandemic.
“[T]The suspension of the application of such regulations does not pose any obstacle to the public administration in situations of emergency and of public interest ”, declared the court.
” Emergency state “
Prayuth, a former army chief and junta leader, signed the order which went into effect on July 30 to prevent people “from presenting information, selling or distributing newspapers or printing d ‘other documents that arouse public fear or distort information to confuse the public during the emergency. state and undermine state security or public morals in the areas covered by the emergency decree.
The prime minister signed the emergency decree – a separate decree – in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic in Thailand.
Thanks to the newly signed executive order, Prayuth authorized the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to collect details of individuals or groups who allegedly broadcast distorted information and to terminate their online connections.
The decree asks the commission to quickly file its information with the national police in order to take legal action.
“Should ISPs [internet security providers] refuse to comply, the NBTC will take action against them, ”he said.
In a Facebook post on July 27, Prayuth said there had been widespread dissemination of false information or distortion of quotes from officials by users of traditional and social media, leading to public misunderstanding.
“The Ministry of the Digital Economy and Society, the Police Department for Technological Crime Suppression and the National Police Office must take steps to quickly and carefully prosecute major broadcasters – be [they] media, celebrities or Facebook page administrators – not small users, ”Prayuth said in her post at the time.
Thapanee Eadsrichai, co-founder of Reporter Production Co. Ltd., whose group is one of 12 plaintiffs, thanked the court for its action.
“We, the media, exercise rights and freedom responsibly. … More importantly, we wouldn’t be doing fake news because it’s illegal, ”she said.
“Look on the bright side, the tribunal protects the rights and freedoms of the media and individuals, as well as the freedom of expression and the free flow of information, especially in multi-faceted disputes. Telling the truth shouldn’t backfire as long as the media is working responsibly, ”Werayuth Theerakamol, a doctoral student in communication and media studies at Loughborough University in England, told BenarNews.
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri, meanwhile, didn’t say much about the injunction.
“The government’s legal team is examining this issue… before an answer can be provided,” Anucha Burapachaisri told BenarNews.
Last week, after Prayuth signed the order, Anucha said she was meant to fight fake news about COVID-19 and should not be forced against professional media.
“Last attack” on freedom
Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch said 16 international human rights organizations joined in denouncing Prayuth’s order, calling it “the government’s latest attack on the right to free speech and ‘information in Thailand’.
“The terms ‘fear’, ‘security’, ‘public order’ and ‘good morals’ used in the regulation are vague and too broad. They are presented without a clear delimitation of their scope, limit or definition, in violation of the principle of legality, as required by the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights]”The New York-based rights watchdog said in a statement.
The signatories noted that it was necessary to combat the spread of COVID-19 disinformation during the pandemic, but proportionate constitutional action should be taken against violators.
“Arbitrary and intrusive means based on criminal penalties, onerous fines and suspension of IP addresses do not meet this threshold,” the statement said.
In another case concerning freedom of expression, Amnesty International has spoken out against Thai police fining a member of their staff for attending a roundtable last month. The discussion focused on the enforced disappearances of Thai activists, including Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who was kidnapped in Cambodia last year.
“Our staff member was simply is doing its job to educate Thailand about international human rights law, ”Yamini Mishra, AI director for Asia-Pacific, said in a statement without naming the employee.
“The Thai authorities should not fine him and the organizers or other panelists for simply talking about the Thai authorities’ human rights obligations and the long history of enforced disappearances in this region,” said Yamini.
“The Thai authorities must stop fining people who peacefully exercise their human rights and stop using the pandemic as an excuse to escalate their crackdown. “