It has been written that the first casualty in war is the truth. Thailand may not be at war with its neighbors, but the fate of truth is under pressure if the ruling junta has its way. Already reeling from a downgrade to “Not Free” by the watchdog, Freedom House, Thai junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha is flexing his muscles and making noises which should shock freedom advocates there and elsewhere.
For him, it appears that truth and his regime are not compatible, and he said he would “probably just execute” those who did “not report the truth” in the latest tirade aimed at Thailand’s media. Of course, he claims to be the sole arbiter of what truth is!
Internet freedom was among the first rights to suffer at the hands of the regime (as chronicled last June in this space) in its bid to sway and control public opinion after seizing power in May, and marshal law continues to be in effect, according Prayuth and his minions sweeping powers, including those to arrest and detain dissenters.
Government censorship in Thailand is nothing new. For more than a decade harsh “lése majesté” (literally: injured majesty, but tantamount to a charge of treason) laws have prohibited criticizing the monarch. Since 2010, more than 110,000 websites have been censored in what began as a crusade against pornography, but has morphed into a potent weapon of oppression and dissent-deterrence that grants tyrants like Prayuth Chan-ocha the ability to make such proclamations with impunity.
Last month Prayuth, who is also prime minister, boasted that he had the power to shut down the media, admonishing them to write in a way that bolsters national reconciliation in the country. Even by his own standards, which entail an abrupt manner and impulsive remarks, his most recent comments are worrisome for those who revere and espouse privacy rights and individual liberty.
It is telling, looking at the surge in the use of VPNs by the populace, that Thais are thirsting for the truth, but overall funding for censorship keeps increasing. The dearth of internet and potentially press freedom is abhorrent, and is something to watch in coming months.
If you’re in Thailand and read this post, check out our reviews of the 5 Best VPNs for Thailand, which includes a detailed look at the history and scope of censorship in the country.