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Thai regime ramps up gagging of critical voices

Government files defamation lawsuit against TV show host for criticizing prime minister on Twitter

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: June 01, 2021 06:01 AM GMT

Updated: June 01, 2021 06:23 AM GMT

Thai regime ramps up gagging of critical voices

TV host Winyu Wongsurawat says he is not concerned about legal action. (Photo: YouTube)

Thailand’s government is stepping up its campaign against critical voices in the media by filing a defamation lawsuit against a TV show host for criticizing Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Twitter.

Winyu Wongsurawat, a 35-year-old media personality who hosts a satirical news show called Shallow News in Depth, has been charged with defaming Prayut in two posts last year on Twitter after the Prime Minister’s Office filed a complaint with police in Bangkok last week.  

In the tweets Winyu accused the former army chief of having governed in a non-transparent manner since ousting an elected government in a military coup in 2014.

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After the coup Prayut ruled Thailand for several years as the head of a junta via a clause in a military-drafted interim constitution that gave him unlimited powers without any civilian oversight.

“General Prayut’s activation of constitution section 44 will mark Thailand’s deepening descent into dictatorship,” Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, warned in 2015.

“Thailand’s friends abroad should not be fooled by this obvious sleight of hand by the junta leader to replace martial law with a constitutional provision that effectively provides unlimited and unaccountable powers.” 

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press have both been severely curtailed on Prayut’s watch

Prayut retained power after parliamentary elections in 2019, which were deemed by independent observers to be unfair and only partially free.

For years Winyu, a Thai-American, has been an outspoken critic of Prayut’s government with his show’s trademark tongue-in-cheek satire.

Following the charge of defamation filed against him last week, Winyu told Thai media that he had been critical of the military-allied government for years but was not concerned about legal action.

Numerous other media professionals and outlets have been charged by Thai authorities with violating various laws over the past several years. 

Although Thailand was once a bastion of a boisterously free press by Southeast Asian standards, freedom of speech and freedom of the press have both been severely curtailed on Prayut’s watch, according to international observers and rights activists.

This year Thailand has been ranked 137th out of 180 countries surveyed globally in the annual World Press Freedom Index of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

Seven years after Thailand’s latest military coup, “any criticism of the government is still liable to lead to harsh reprisals facilitated by draconian legislation and a justice system that follows orders,” the group says in its assessment of press freedom in Thailand.

“A cybersecurity law adopted in February 2019 gave the executive even more powers and poses an additional threat to online information," Reporters Without Borders added.

“The threat of a lese majeste charge carrying a possible 15-year jail sentence continues to be used as a weapon of mass deterrence against dissident journalists and bloggers.

“The government used the coronavirus crisis to issue a decree making the dissemination of information that is ‘false or capable of causing fear in the public’ punishable by up to five years in prison and allowing the authorities to ‘correct’ any published information.”

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