The Thailand Parliament [official website, in Thai] unanimously approved a controversial amendment [text] to its Computer Crime Act of 2007 (CCA) [text, PDF] on Friday, which rights groups fear will give the government unrestricted power to police the web and suppress criticism. The amendment, which is being criticized as leading to more extensive online monitoring by the government and an arbitrary invasion of privacy, would enable the government to obtain user and traffic data from Internet service providers (ISPs) without court approval. One of the most controversial changes [Phys.Org report] in the CCA is the establishment of a five-person committee that can seek court approval to remove online content offending the country’s public morals. According to Arthit Suriyawongkul of the Thai Netizen Network [advocacy website, in Thai], the term “public morals” is “not written in any law. … 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.” The Thai Netizen Network also stated that the amendment subjects citizens to five years imprisonment 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 Yingcheep Atchanont of the legal monitoring group iLaw [advocacy website, in Thai],”[b]locking websites and persecuting critics … will make us unable to criticize the government at all.” The Thai Netizen Network led an online petition protesting the amendment that garnered more than 360,000 signatures. It was handed to the parliament on Thursday. However, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha [BBC profile] has defended the amendment [Reuters report], dismissing suggestions that it violates civil rights. The amendment will be submitted shortly to King Maha Vajiralongkorn for royal endorsement.
Human rights groups worldwide have expressed growing concern over violations in Thailand since the military junta came to power in May 2014. In September Thailand’s Bangkok South Criminal Court found [JURIST report] British labor rights activist Andy Hall guilty of criminal defamation and violating cyber crime laws. The charges came about after Hall published Cheap Has a High Price [Finnwatch report, PDF], a report on labor abuse in the fruit canning sector. About a week earlier the same month Thailand’s military government announced [JURIST report] that it will prosecute cases concerning national security and “royal insult” in civilian courts, as opposed to military courts where the cases have been tried since 2014. In August Thailand passed a new constitution [JURIST report] by referendum vote. The constitution was drafted by a military-appointed counsel and is feared to be another step in entrenching military control of the nation. Thai military officials in July charged [JURIST report] three human rights defenders with criminal defamation and violations of the CCA because of a report they published detailing acts of torture in Thailand. In April Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] Thailand to stop harassing and charging human right lawyers for defending victims of the government’s abuses, and to revoke military police powers.