THAILAND: Rumor Has It

ELIZABETH NAAI WRITES – Is speaking about a rumor the same as spreading it? One of Thailand’s top cops says it is, and four journalists now face serious jail time as a result.

Police Maj Gen Pisit Pao-in, head of the Technology Crime Suppression Division, says posting a Facebook comment, or “liking” a post is the digital equivalent of fanning the flames. And in this case, four people, including Sermsuk Kasitipradit, a pro-government political editor of the public television station TPBS, are alleged to have spread rumors of a military coup, thereby inciting public panic. If guilty, they could each face five years in prison and a fine of 100,000 baht (3,200 USD) fine.

Political unrest hovers over Bangkok as Parliament debates a controversial amnesty bill that could absolve the military for retaliating against political protesters in the 2006 coup. Critics say it could silence victims of human rights violations and empower transgressors; others speculate that it could set precedent to grant former Prime Minister Thaksin amnesty.

Thailand Article Picture 2As accusations flew from the yellow camp (Democratic Party) and the red camp (pro-Thaksin) staging the rumored coup, the accused four took to social media to discuss or dispel rumors. They are under investigation under § 116 of the Criminal Code, which forbids communication with the public in a constitutionally unprotected way that invites unrest and disaffection and § 14 of the Computer Crimes Code, which punishes falsely imported data likely to damage the country’s security or cause public panic. Below is an English translation of Sermsuk’s satus:

According to the authorities,“It’s on” affirmatively incites public panic. Recent court cases, however, have expanded political speech freedoms in Thailand. The Appeals Court upheld two cases and dismissed two cases of political defamation. The court ruled that political statements, specifically the “airing of suspicions,” cannot be condemned.

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