ONLINE CRITICS were warned to be careful what they say about the government’s performance, as Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday ordered all state officers to elevate their monitoring of Internet comments and enforce the laws relating to them.
They were told by Prayut to strictly enforce the new Computer Crime Bill, which punishes online dissemination of information “deemed controversial to national security”. The offence is punishable by fines of Bt 20,000–200,000 and/or up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
The bill also allows state officers to close websites deemed to have violated the law.
Prayut claimed that the decision relied on a report issued by King Prajadhipok’s Institute, which suggests that news headlines could mislead public understanding.
But the exact report was not presented when Prayut made his order to Cabinet during yesterday’s meeting.
“Sometimes, some bad guys need to be punished,” Prayut said at his weekly news briefing. “There are false facts and hate speech everywhere. We just want to keep society in order.”
Government Spokesperson Lt-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd added that the premier had ordered all government agencies to pursue legal processes should they find any messages in social media that “infringe their rights”.
But they should focus on those attacking the government’s administration, not on political agendas, so not to politicise the monitoring agenda, Sansern added.
Prayut’s order came a few days after he criticised media speculation about his Cabinet reshuffle. “They should wait until an official announcement is made without guessing,” Prayut said, as quoted by Sansern.
Public attention has been paid to the list, with a focus on economy-related ministers and suggestions that there be a quota on the number of military generals in Prayut’s three-year-old junta government.
Since Prayut came in power in 2014, many people have been arrested for violating the Computer Crime Bill and either the defamation law or the harsh lese majeste law.
In 2015, a factory worker was arrested for breaking the law for sharing an infographic elaborating on an alleged government “network” related to the Rajbhakdi Royal Park corruption scandal.
In the same year, a Facebook page “We love Gen Prayut” was closed down with the page’s administration being legally pursued for content mocking the junta leader.