Civil Court blocks PM’s gag on free speech

Injunction order notes that government already has lots of other legal tools to fight fake news

Media representatives and human rights lawyers talk to reporters before filing a lawsuit at the Civil Court on Aug 2 against a prime minister’s order they said threatens press freedom and free speech. (Photo: @HRLawyersTH Twitter account)

The Civil Court on Friday ruled in favour of the media by issuing an injunction suspending Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s regulation restricting freedom of speech and threatening internet censorship.

The court said it went against the law.

The court also issued an English-language announcement of its decision.

“Considering that Section 9 of the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548 (2005) (No. 29) provides Prime Minister no authorization to suspend internet services provision, Article 2 of the Regulation authorizing the suspension of internet services provision against the Internet Protocol address (IP address) of which the user has disseminated the information not compatible with the Regulation is in contrary to the law,’’ the announcement said.

The court said it had examined and assessed the witnesses and the documentary evidences and decided to issue the injunction.

“It is in the view of the Court that, considering the existence of several legal instruments establishing the measures concerning illegal dissemination of information and the government’s capability to educate people, develop a public better understanding and examine false information, the suspension of the enforcement of such Regulation does not pose any obstacle to public administration in emergency situations and public interest,’’ the the statement said.

The injunction came after the Human Rights Lawyer Alliance and 12 media companies filed a complaint against Gen Prayut, also head of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration.

They want the revocation of the 29th regulation, which empowers the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to cut internet access of social media users posting content that may frighten people.

The petition listed three arguments. First, the ban of content “which may frighten people” is ambiguous and may run against criminal law principles.

Second, the regulation empowers the NBTC to check and block access to the internet, which is illegal. The emergency situation decree in effect now does not allow blocking communications among people. Only the serious emergency situation decree allows it, but it was not in effect today.

Third, it runs against Section 35 of the constitution which endorses freedom of the press. If the government wants to block content, it needs to do so by piece — it may not block an entire platform or channel such as a certain IP address.

Media outlets that signed the petition included The Reporters, VoiceTV, The Standard, The Momentum, The Matter, Prachatai, Dem All, The People, Way Magazine, Echo and Plus Seven.