Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. This right, however, was restricted by laws and government actions. For example the government imposed legal restrictions on criticism of the government and monarchy, favored progovernment media organizations in regulatory actions, harassed antigovernment critics, monitored media and the internet, and blocked websites.
Freedom of Speech: The lese majeste prohibition makes it a crime, punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment for each offense, to criticize, insult, or threaten the king, queen, royal heir apparent, or regent. The law also allows citizens to file lese majeste complaints against one other.
In November, Royal Thai Police issued summons warrants to 12 protest leaders to face charges of lese majeste, the first such charges since 2018. Prior to that, human rights activists reported that although lese majeste prosecutions declined, the government increasingly turned to computer-crime and “sedition” legislation to restrict free speech, including speech critical of the monarchy.
As of September, according to the local NGO Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), 15 persons remained imprisoned for lese majeste charges, while as of August, the court of justice reported that there were 23 pending lese majeste cases in criminal courts nationwide.
The government continued to conduct some lese majeste trials from previous years in secret and prohibited public disclosure of the alleged offenses’ contents. International and domestic human rights organizations and academics expressed concern about the lese majeste prohibition’s negative effect on freedom of expression.
The Constitutional Court may take legal action against individuals deemed to have distorted facts, laws, or verdicts related to the court’s adjudication of cases, or to have mocked the court.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active but faced significant impediments to operating freely.
Although the constitution requires owners of newspapers and other mass media organizations to be citizens, government officials publicly welcomed content-sharing agreements between Chinese state-run news agencies and domestic state-run outlets, contending that Chinese media offers an alternative perspective to that offered by Western media. The Royal Thai Government owns all spectrum used in media broadcast and leases it to private media operators, allowing the government to exert indirect influence on the media landscape. Media firms are known to practice self-censorship regularly.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Laws remain in effect empowering the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission to suspend or revoke the licenses of radio or television operators broadcasting content deemed false, defamatory to the monarchy, harmful to national security, or unnecessarily critical of the government. As of October there were no known cases of authorities revoking licenses. Authorities monitored media content from all media sources, including international press. Local practice leaned toward self-censorship, particularly regarding anything that might be critical of the monarchy or members of the royal family.
The emergency decree in the conflict-affected southernmost provinces empowers the government “to prohibit publication and distribution of news and information that may cause the people to panic or with an intention to distort information.” It also authorizes the government to censor news it considers a threat to national security.
In October media organizations and academics criticized a leaked order from the Royal Thai Police to investigate four online news outlets and the Facebook page of a prominent antigovernment protest group for possible violations under the October “severe emergency decree,” which prohibits dissemination or publication of information that affects state security or the public order. A court ultimately overturned petitions to shut down these four outlets and the Facebook page, and they remained operational. Separately, in September the minister of digital economy and society issued an order to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission to notify internet providers and cellular operators to suspend the accounts of users associated with the protest movement. The minister also announced that 300,000 Uniform Resource Locators could be in violation of the decree.
Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by a fine and two years’ imprisonment. Military and business figures filed criminal defamation and libel cases against political and environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and politicians.
In June, 10 months after poultry firm Thammakaset dropped its civil defamation case against human rights activist Sutharee “Kratik” Wannasiri, the company lost its criminal defamation suit against her. Thammakaset argued that her social media posts in 2017 had damaged its reputation.
In October the Lopburi court of appeals overturned the conviction of Suchanee Cloitre, a television reporter, for criminal defamation and libel in a case initiated by Thammakaset. In December 2019 the Lopburi provincial court had sentenced Suchanee to two years in prison for her 2017 post on Twitter about the company’s labor rights violations.
On October 26, 12 international human rights organizations called on the government to decriminalize defamation and “take immediate steps to end frivolous criminal proceedings against journalists, human rights defenders, and whistleblowers including those accused by Thammakaset.” In recent years Thammakaset has filed at least 39 cases against human rights activists and journalists for criticizing their labor practices, alleging civil and criminal defamation.
National Security: Various NCPO orders continue to provide authorities the right to restrict distribution of material deemed to threaten national security.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution largely provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In March 2019 the country held national elections after five years of rule by the military-led NCPO following a 2014 coup. The campaign season was mostly peaceful with many political parties competing for seats and conducting political rallies for the first time in five years. A restrictive legal framework and selective enforcement of campaign regulations by the Election Commission, however, impacted the final outcome in favor of the parties aligned with the Phalang Pracharath Party.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The country held national elections in March 2019, following five years of military rule. In June 2019 parliament voted to return Prayut Chan-o-Cha to the premiership and in July 2019 Prayut’s cabinet was sworn in, officially disbanding the junta NCPO. On December 20, the government held local elections for the first time since the 2014 coup.
There were few reports of election irregularities during the March 2019 national elections, although there were frequent reports of vote buying by both government and opposition parties. The NGO Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)–the only global organization allowed by the government to observe the election–found the election “partly free, not fair.” ANFREL noted many positive aspects of the election primarily related to election-day activities, including high voter turnout, free access to the polls, and peaceful conditions during the campaign and on election day. ANFREL found, however, that a restrictive and biased legal framework and lack of transparency by the Election Commission meant authorities “failed to establish the healthy political climate that lies at the heart of free and fair electoral process.”
Political Parties and Political Participation: Critics complained that police and courts unfairly targeted opposition parties for legal action. In February the Constitutional Court dissolved the opposition Future Forward Party (FFP), citing an illegal loan to the party from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, and banned all members of the party’s 16-person executive committee from politics for 10 years. Prodemocracy activists alleged the decision was part of a politically motivated effort to weaken a key opposition party. Thanathorn and other former FFP leaders remained under indictment in more than 20 other cases, many of which carry jail terms.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process; however, their participation was limited. There were 76 female members of parliament in the elected lower house out of 489 members and 26 female senators out of 250 members. There were four women in the 35-member cabinet, all in deputy minister positions. There were four lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals in parliament and one member of the Hmong ethnic group.