[Thailand] Ever-expanding powers of authorities set dangerous precedent

Two government agencies released announcements on 12 April 2017, a day before the start of a long holiday in Thailand. One suspended a radio station for five days, another prohibited online communication with monarchy critics.

The National Broadcast and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) suspended Spring Radio FM 98.5 MHz for five days citing its broadcast of inappropriate content, which concerned the national security.

Radio and television host, and chief executive officer of Spring News Watchara Sarnphimpha said that the station received only the NBTC order, but they have yet to know the details of their case. He shared that the news team is checking their programs in the past week to find out which parts could have resulted to the complaint.

This was the only reported case of NBTC ordering a media shutdown prior an investigation.

“This sets a very dangerous precedent and another instance of NBTC overstepping the limit of their mandate. This was an attack against press freedom — stopping media workers from doing their duty without a clear and valid reason. The station did not even know which content constituted the violation of the law. The vagueness of the ‘offense’ adds to the chilling effect and already prevalent self-censorship,” said the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).

“The timing of the suspension, with government offices being closed from 13 to 17 April, denied the station legal remedies,” added SEAPA.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) issued a letter asking internet users to refrain from “following, contacting, spreading or engaging in any activity that results in spreading content and information of the persons mentioned in this announcement on the internet system, social media; either directly or indirectly.”

The letter named: Dr. Somsak Jiamtheerasakul, a former lecturer at Thammasat University; Dr. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a politic scholar and a writer; and Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a writer and former reporter.

Gp. Capt. Somsak Khaosuwan, Deputy Permanent Secretary Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, signed the letter. The ministry referred to the Criminal Court’s orders that prohibit the distribution of “inappropriate information.” But the letter did not cite specific court orders or laws, and has not provided any legal basis for which constitute violations.

The MDES Deputy Permanent Secretary told reporters that this letter was not a ministerial announcement, but public relation information from the MDES to the Thai people about their use of discretion on social media.

SEAPA said “the ‘do not follow’ release threatens the public’s right to know — access to information and all available resources to find out what the government is doing. This tries to limit the choices of the people and influence their behavior by implying risks of violating the law.”