Free Speech Crackdown Sparks Hacker Backlash in Thailand

Cyber attackers successfully blocked a number of Thai government websites today, in response to sweeping new laws that restrict online freedom of speech.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the country’s ruling junta was “scrambling” to rack up security after sites including those of the Ministries of Defence and Digital Economy and Society were brought down by hackers.

Junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha today urged the public “not to pay attention” and claimed the government was equipped to protect itself against new attacks.

Last week, the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly unanimously voted in a controversial new law that intensifies internet censorship in the country.

Called the Computer-Related Crime Act (CCA), the law increases government surveillance powers as well as banning comments that contain any information deemed false, “partially distorted”, or that could potentially cause harm to the public.

General Prayuth claimed that the Act is a necessary tool in preventing Thai internet users from accessing illegal or damaging content from overseas. However, critics are concerned that the vaguely worded new rules are open to abuse by companies, political figures and powerful individuals.

Thailand’s strict lèsemajesté and defamation laws have already seen large numbers of journalists, bloggers and activist jailed for criticising the junta, members of the royal family and private companies. In September, UK journalist Andy Hall was convicted of defamation after contributing to a Finnish report on whether Thai company The Natural Fruit Company mistreated its workers.

Private conversations and casual comments on social media are also scrutinised. A Thai cleaning lady was arrested in May for replying to a Facebook comment with the work “Ja” (meaning “okay” or “I see”) instead of actively condemning an opinion expressed by a political activist.

According to Human Rights Watch, corporations and government figures often retaliate against those that report on alleged human rights abuses by filing defamation claims – and the CCA will make things worse.

“The adoption of the Computer-Related Crime Act drastically tightens the chokehold on online expression in Thailand,” HRW Asia Director Brad Adams wrote in a press release.

“Hundreds of activists have been prosecuted since the May 2014 coup for exercising their freedom of expression online, and these latest amendments will make it even easier for the junta to punish its critics.”

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