Thailand empowers state authorities to violate rights by censoring online content


Update: August 10, 2021 — In a small victory for free expression online, Access Now welcomes the Thai Civil Court’s injunction suspending the enforcement of Regulation No. 29, issued on August 6, 2021. The court noted that “the Prime Minister had no authorization under the Emergency Decree to suspend the provision of internet services” as provided for under the regulation. It further highlighted

that the suspension could apply to future acts of information-sharing, which could result in “hindering communication and dissemination of information not having malicious intent.”  In acknowledging the regulation’s non-compliance with Thailand’s human rights obligations,  the court noted that the order would have resulted in “a superfluous and unnecessary deprivation of people’s right(s) and freedom.”

Following the court injunction, on August 9, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha signed an announcement revoking Regulation No. 29. This came into effect immediately and was published in the Royal Gazette as of August 10. 

While Regulation No. 29’s quashing marks a positive step for freedom of expression online in Thailand, Access Now will continue to monitor developments in this respect — noting the government is engaged in other continuing efforts to narrow civic space online.

Update: August 6, 2021 —On August 2, the Human Rights Lawyers Alliance along with 12 media companies filed a petition with the Thai Civil Court against Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, calling for the revocation of Regulation No. 29. The court’s decision is due on August 6.

Update: August 4, 2021 — Access Now is joining six organizations in the ASEAN Regional Coalition to call on the Thai government to #StopDigitalDictatorship and immediately repeal Regulation No. 29. Thailand must uphold its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and respect rights in line with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

August 3, 2021: Today, Access Now and 16 organizations called on Thailand to immediately repeal Regulation No. 29, which came into force on July 29. This order, along with Regulation No. 27 of July 10, prohibits the release, distribution, or dissemination of online content for vague and over-broad reasons of “instigating fear” or “affecting the security of state or public order or good morals of the people.” These regulations contravene international legal principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality, in violation of Thailand’s human rights obligations.

“Regulation No. 29 is the latest of continuing attacks by the Thailand military regime on freedom of expression and access to information,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Senior International Counsel and Asia Pacific Director at Access Now.  “Thailand’s leaders have once again abused both the rhetoric of supposed rule of law and exploited the pandemic to undermine human rights. Instead of protecting people, the government is merely expanding its control of speech online to the detriment of people’s rights.”

The Thai government has repeatedly used the COVID-19 pandemic as a guise to curtail freedom of expression and information online. Authorities have abused the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation B.E. 2548 (2005) and related regulations, the Computer-related Crimes Act B.E. 2560 (2017), and Criminal Code provisions, criminalising lèse-majesté, insult, and defamation to target individuals for merely expressing themselves or sharing information online.

“Amidst student-led protests and public dissatisfaction with how the government has handled the pandemic, the current administration has doubled down on suppressing dissent rather than focusing its efforts on addressing people’s legitimate concerns,” said Dhevy Sivaprakasam, Asia Pacific Policy Counsel at Access Now. “The new regulation has no true legitimate aim —  it must be repealed.”

Read the full letter here.