Thai police seek probe of media over protests

Joanna Estrada
October 19, 2020

The announcement prompted anger from media groups and accusations of an attack on press freedom by the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former junta leader the protesters are seeking to drive from off.

Authorities are now increasingly turning to censorship to try to clamp down on the demonstrations after protesters heckled a royal motorcade last week in a once unthinkable scene.

According to a police document dated October 16, investigations have been ordered into content from four media outlets, as well as the Facebook page of a protest group.

All of the outlets have been broadcasting live coverage of the protests.

Most controversially, protesters are also making unprecedented demands to reform the powerful and ultra-wealthy monarchy.

Putchapong Nodthaisong, a spokesman for the digital ministry, said it had requested court orders to take down content by the four media outlets and the Facebook page of the protest group Free Youth, among more than 300,000 pieces of content it said violated Thai laws over the last week.

"The government has already compromised to some degree", he said. As of Monday, none had been blocked. On Sunday, rallies spread to at least a dozen provinces outside Bangkok. Voice TV and Prachatai are openly sympathetic towards the demonstrators, while Free Youth is a student protest organization. At least one local cable TV provider, however, has been censoring worldwide news broadcasts during their segments on the Thai protests.

"Bona fide journalists should be allowed to report important developments without the threat of bans, suspensions, censorship or prosecution hanging over them", the club said in a statement.

In addition to the emergency decree banning protests, authorities have also tried to keep people from gathering by shutting down stations on Bangkok's mass transit lines.

They are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led a coup in 2014 and entrenched his position in elections past year, and the monarchy to be reformed. The protesters say a constitution written under military rule and passed in a referendum in which campaigning against it was illegal is undemocratic.

The movement became particularly heated when protesters began demanding reforms of the monarchy - an institution protected by an outdated lese-majeste law, meaning that insulting the monarchy can be punished with three to 15 years in prison.

By midday, #SaveFreePress was the latest hashtag trending on Thai Twitter, one of several platforms being used by tech-savvy protesters to coordinate their activity.

Activists demonstrate in solidarity with ongoing pro-democracy protests in Thailand, outside the office building where the Thai consulate is located in Hong Kong, on Monday.

Prayut warned Monday the government needed to protect the monarchy. The issue has angered Thailand's conservative establishment, especially the army, which considers protecting the monarchy to be one of its main duties. Speaking at Government House on Monday, Prayuth said he supported a proposal for a special parliament session to discuss the situation. It was not clear when that might be held.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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