Last week, 42-year-old Danai Usama, a graffiti artist and owner of the Facebook account Art Zen, became nationally famous. Yesterday, according to Prachatai, he was arrested.
The police detained the Phuket man for allegedly violating the Computer Crime Act, accusing him of posting false information on his social media account.
Last week, Danai’s Facebook post was widely shared and made news headlines. The post he made spoke of his experience entering Thailand through Suvarnabhumi Airport after a trip to Barcelona, Spain. The country has the third highest number of COVID-19 infections behind China and Italy. As of March 21, Spain has 28,572 infected cases, 2,125 recoveries and 1,381 deaths.
Danai alleged there was no screening process at the airport. He said passengers went through immigration without being checked for COVID-19 symptoms, despite the government’s claim of imposing strict measures at the airport. (Note that measures have since been put in place.)
Computer Crime Act & Article 112
The law can be used as a political tool to intimidate, silent and imprison activists, dissidents or just ordinary citizens who exercise free speech at the expense of the power that controls Thailand. In the kingdom, the Computer Crime Act and Article 112 (lèse majesté law) have both been misused to persecute citizens.
Thailand’s current Computer Crime Act has been in existence since 2007, and was mainly used to block pornographic websites. However, the escalation of Thailand’s political conflicts has seen its usage increasingly against social media contents, which are deemed critical of the government or the monarchy.
In 2016, the law was amended to clamp down further on free speech. The British human rights organization, Article 19, stated that “The Amended Act allows the government nearly unfettered authority to restrict free speech, engage in surveillance, conduct warrantless searches of personal data and undermine freedoms to utilize encryption and anonymity”.
But even before there was the internet and computers, there was Article 112, implemented in 1908. The criminal code states that anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent” will be punished with a jail term between three and 15 years.
According to the website i-LAW, since the May 22, 2014 military coup, 99 individuals have been charged with Article 112. However, not all the cases were prosecuted.
Meanwhile, with the creation of the Anti-Fake News Center in 2019, the Ministry of Digital Economy & Society further enhances the usage of the law against the citizens.
The Internet has no king
No one owns the internet. There isn’t a president, CEO or king of the internet. There’s no single body of law that rules over the internet. The internet is a space where people can exercise their freedom of speech without limitations… but not really.
A tyrannical government fears an educated population. Education comes from knowledge, of which the internet is a limitless space for. The digital space is a wealth of knowledge that are testaments to the best of humanity, as well as garbage that stinks of the lowest common denominator of humanity. Both of which, and everything else in between, qualify as free speech.
Knowledge is power, a knowledgeable citizenry is a powerful citizenry that can undermine the power of tyrants, which is why tyrants hate the internet.
Hence, education is controlled. Children are taught to submit and obey. As such, in North Korea and other authoritarian countries, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are banned.
While Thailand is not North Korea, the government has ways and means to control its citizens. By using the law to punish the people for exercising freedom of speech that might put the government in a bad light, or expose it of incompetence or criminality, or all of the above.
Social media can topple governments
In 2011, a series of anti-government protests and armed rebellions broke out across much of the Arab world. The event was known as Arab Spring and was noted for how it began as a social media movement, in which sentiments against oppressive regimes spilled out from Facebook and Twitter pages and onto the streets. Arab Spring led to the overthrow of governments in Egypt, Syria and Libya, with the latter two still torned in civil wars.
Nicknamed the hashtag revolution, #Euromaidan was a wave of demonstrations in Ukraine that demanded closer integration with the European Union. It began on the night of November 21, 2013 and spiraled into the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution, which led to the removal of the pro-Russia president, Viktor Yanukovych.
Over the 15-year-long Thai political conflicts, the streets of Bangkok have been paved by chaos and violence. Many Bangkokians have come to accept military coup and dictatorship as a trade-off for security.
With draconian laws preventing freedom of assembly during military rule (2014-2019), citizens took to social media as a platform to stand up and speak out against the government.
The culture of fear and paranoia
The March 24, 2019 National Elections under the junta-inspired Constitution did not pave the way for democracy. Rather, it saw the continuation of junta-power masked as democracy. As such, social media continued as the platform for pro-democracy voices.
Government supporters however, have long looked down on these voices as hidden behind the keyboard, afraid to show themselves in “real life”.
The government has made moves against the progressive Future Forward Party since before the elections. After the elections, the adversarial situation heightened as Future Forward and its leadership were charged with criminality over party loans/donations, shareholdings in a media company and even illuminati conspiracy.
On December 23, 2019, party leaders organized a flash mob at the SkyWalk in front of Mahboonkrong Shopping Complex in the capital’s shopping district. Thousands showed up in support, waving many banners and posters, several with the clear message of “We are not just social media. We are real”.
Following the Constitutional Court’s decision to disband Future Forward on February 21 of this year, university campuses across Bangkok and in many provinces, including some high school campuses, erupted in protests.
To stave off the tide of anti-government activities, the ruling regime continues to create the culture of fear.
From the prime minister to the army chief and various government MPs, everyone sings the same tune. They intimidate citizens with rhetorics such as fake news and hate speeches; accuse them of undermining national image and compromising national security; and brand them as nation-haters and anti-monarchy. With the proverbial threat, “don’t break the law”.
What law? The law that is being used as a political tool to intimidate, silent and imprison the people. Danai Usama is but the latest victim.