Junta leader admits controversial digital economy bills target lèse majesté

The junta leader has admitted that one of the prime goals of the controversial digital economy bills is to catch lèse majesté suspects and did not deny reports concerning Thai authorities’ implementation of software for mass surveillance.

At Government House on Thursday morning, Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader, revealed to the press that among the prime objectives of the controversial Digital Economy Bill and Cyber Security Bill is a crackdown on online lèse majesté content.

“We will develop software for goods and services. If there is private [online] content, no one would mess with it. But if [some people] commit crimes [such as lèse majesté], we have to investigate the matter. The accusation that the government is not taking care of Article 112 [of the Criminal Code, known as the lèse majesté law] is because those lèse majesté websites operate from overseas. They can’t be removed because other countries don’t have a law like ours. They don’t allow us [to shut down lèse majesté content]. Then why don’t we make our country safer because our house is different from their houses. Thai people are not like westerners. We eat rice and they eat bread, which is different. We are truly Thai,” Wassana Nanuam, Bangkok Post's military beat reporter quoted the junta leader as saying.

Prayut also hinted that the bills are for blocking lèse majesté content produced overseas.

Prayut also ambiguously referred to reports of surveillance software. He said that Thai citizens should not be worried if they did nothing wrong, although he ironically said that people do not need to worry about privacy.

"We’ll develop software. Software for services and commerce. If it’s a personal matter, we won’t mess with it, but if they’re wrong, we have to take a look,” Wassana quoted Prayut as saying.

There have been unconfirmed reports since September that the authorities have bought a device or software to conduct mass surveillance in an attempt to read content under secure protocols.

Last week, six civil organizations, including Thai Netizen Network, FTA Watch, and the Foundation for Community Education Media (FCEM), denounced the ten digital economy bills recently approved by the junta, saying they are national security bills in disguise and that the bills will pave the way for a state monopoly of the telecommunications business.

One of the most controversial digital economy bills is the Cyber Security Bill, which will give the Thai authorities power to conduct mass surveillance on all communication devices in the name of national security.

Content defaming the Thai monarchy, which violates Article 112 of the Criminal Code or the lèse majesté law, is strongly viewed by the junta and previous governments as a threat to national security.  The cyber security bill will serve as a tool for the junta to further intensify its purge of lèse majesté.

The period since the 2014 coup marked the highest number of lèse majesté arrests in Thai history. Lèse majesté suspects are being arrested nearly every week, and most have been accused of defaming the monarchy online.

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