Police have arrested 12 Thai men for sharing Facebook posts written about a British tourist who alleged that she had been raped on a popular tourist island and that local police had refused to investigate her complaint
The arrests have led to an outcry among international human rights organisations which claim that Thailand’s cybercrime laws are being used to silence dissent in the country.
According to the 19-year-old British tourist, who has since returned to England, she was drugged and assaulted on a beach on Thailand’s Koh Tao island in late June. When she went to the police to report the assault the following day, she said that officials refused to hear her complaint.
Her story was shared by the Samui Times, a local news outlet, and then on Facebook via popular online blog “CSI LA”. Warrants have been issued against the editor of the Samui Times and against the administrator of the CSI LA Facebook page, both of whom live outside of the country.
The 12 men arrested had reportedly “shared” CSI LA’s posts about the alleged rape.
They have been charged with violating the controversial Computer-Related Crime Act, which human rights organisations argue is a “draconian” law that gives the Thai government overly broad powers to restrict free speech and enforce censorship. The offense carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of about $3,000.
“The Thai police appear to be using computer-related crime charges against anyone who questions their shoddy investigation of the Koh Tao island rape case,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in an official statement. “The authorities should immediately drop these bogus charges.”
The statement further asserted that Thai officials have consistently harassed and persecuted people who have dared to be critical of the government, noting that several arrests have been made on the basis of silencing opinions and statements that are damaging to Thailand’s reputation.
According to deputy tourist police chief Surachet Hakpan, the shared allegations represented a “distortion of facts” that had “damaged the country”.
“In our work today, we have only one goal: to seek the truth in order to defend Thailand’s reputation,” he added.
Previous arrests made on the basis of injury to Thai reputation include that of prominent journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk, who wrote Facebook posts critical of the government, as well as a magazine editor in Chiang Mai who faces up to five years in prison for sharing a drawing on Facebook that highlighted the increasing levels of smog in the country.
“The Thai police should recognise that their reputation is better served by solving crimes than prosecuting their critics,” Adams said. “The government should reform the Computer-Related Crimes Act so it can no longer be misused for stifling critical online media and retaliating against critics.”