The Thai national flag flies against a stormy sky in Lampang, Thailand, July 14, 2017. 

© 2017 Yvan Cohen/LightRocket via Getty Images
(New York) – Thai authorities are wrongfully prosecuting online news outlets and social media users for reporting an alleged rape case at a popular tourist island in Thailand, Human Rights Watch said today.

On September 4 and 5, 2018, police arrested 12 Facebook users from across Thailand under the draconian Computer-Related Crime Act for sharing information about an alleged rape of a 19-year-old British tourist in June 2018 on Koh Tao island. Arrest warrants were also issued against Suzanne Emery, British publisher of the online newspaper Samui Times, and Pramuk Anantasin, Thai-American administrator of the CSI LA Facebook page, for reporting the story and raising concerns about the quality of the police work.

“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. “The authorities should immediately drop these bogus charges.”

According to information provided by the police, investigating officers, in this case, have never interviewed the victim or conducted a forensic examination of evidence. Yet the police announced that no rape happened. 

The police accused the 14 people charged with publishing false information online and misleading the public. Maj. Gen. Surachet Hakpal, deputy commissioner of the Tourist Police, said this tarnished Thailand’s reputation as a tourism destination and undermined the police’s credibility. The offense under the Computer-Related Crimes Act carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of 100,000 Thai baht (US$3,100).

In March 2017, the Thai government told the United Nations Human Rights Committee during the review of the country’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that it respects media freedom and freedom of expression. However, since the military coup of May 2014, the Thai government’s record on these issues has been poor, as the authorities have repeatedly harassed and persecuted people for their speech, writings, and internet postings critical of government agencies and officials. Government agencies, including the police, have frequently accused critics of making false statements with the intent of damaging their reputation.

“The Thai police should recognize 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.”