Thai gov’t censors local media outlets covering protests, eyes Telegram ban
Update 1: Adds Telegram ban, updates headline
Bangkok, Oct 19 (efe-epa).- The government of Thailand on Monday ordered four local media outlets to delete and suspend their coverage of the pro-democracy protests that have gathered thousands of people in Bangkok daily for the past five days and that demand the resignation of the prime minister.
The authorities have used the “severe” emergency decree approved on Thursday, arguing that the content poses a threat to national security, according to a statement published by the authorities.
The affected media are The Standard, Voice TV, The Reporters and Prachathai. A Prachathai journalist was arrested on Friday during a live broadcast of the demonstrations and his electronic devices were seized.
“Honored to report accurate info about human rights and political development in Thailand, we’ll try our best in continuing to do so,” Prachathai said of the order on Twitter.
The Reporters said “we will continue to do our duties.”
Protest organizers Free Youth were given the same order.
On Sunday, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand issued a statement saying it was concerned about the safety and security of all involved in the protests, including Thai and foreign media, “in particular, provisions of the new emergency decree place vaguely defined criteria for news coverage that could see journalists arrested for simply doing their job.”
The Government also ordered the blocking of the Telegram application to try to prevent the call for demonstrations of the pro-democracy student movement, which on Monday had been organized for the sixth consecutive day despite the current “severe” state of emergency declared last week.
The Ministry of Economy and Digital Society issued an order Monday, classified as secret but leaked by various local media, requesting the suspension by all internet service providers of the mobile messaging application.
The order comes a day after the government tried to block the Facebook page “Free Youth,” which protesters have used to call for peaceful protests in Bangkok in a cat and mouse game with authorities.
Hours later, the pro-democracy protesters opened a Telegram account, also called “Free Youth,” which already has about 200,000 followers and in which the rallies were being organized Monday in the north of the capital.
The government declared the emergency decree after a massive peaceful protest gathered last Wednesday, through which a convoy carrying Queen Suthida and Prince Dipangkorn drove as protesters held up the three-finger gesture of rebellion at their car – unprecedented in the nation.
The emergency order, in force until Nov. 13, aims to quell the large but peaceful student-led anti-government movement and prevent the publication of news that “affects national security.”
According to this decree, political gatherings of five or more people are prohibited and the authorities can detain anyone who violates it for up to 30 days without charge, among other measures.
Authorities have detained more than 70 protesters, including nearly all the leaders of the movement, and on Friday used water cannon against the unarmed and peaceful crowd to disperse it through force.
Since last Wednesday, massive demonstrations have gathered daily, with an overwhelming attendance of young students in defiance of the order to demand democratic reforms in the country.
The use of water cannon by police on Friday seems to have spurred the movement on in anger, despite the authorities closing public subway and skytrain stations over the weekend to prevent gatherings.
The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Association Clement Voule said late Sunday that he was closely following the situation.
“I reiterate my call to Thai authorities to refrain from using force against peaceful protesters. Peaceful protest is not a crime but a democratic means for people to express their grievances and demands,” he said on Twitter.