Thai authorities should immediately drop their criminal investigation of the group Rap Against Dictatorship, whose song “Prathet Ku Me” (“What My Country Has Got”) criticizes the military rule, human rights abuses, and other problems in Thailand, Human Rights Watch said today. The group’s music video has been viewed more than 20 million times since it was posted online a week ago.
“The Thai junta’s investigation of Rap Against Dictatorship shows that the group’s song and music video struck a raw nerve,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Taking unwarranted criminal action against the group using oppressive laws will go a long way to proving the rappers’ point.”
The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta and the police accused the rap group of presenting false information in the song, constituting a national security threat, and jeopardizing Thailand’s reputation. An investigation is underway, aimed at potentially prosecuting members of the rap group and their production team for serious criminal offenses, including sedition under article 116 of the Penal Code, violation of the Computer-Related Crime Act, and violating the junta’s ban on political activity and criticism of military rule. Authorities also threatened to punish anyone who shares the song or the music video on social media platforms.
Thailand’s sedition law, which carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence, is broadly defined to include public speech that is deemed “to raise confusion or disaffection among the people to the point of causing unrest in the kingdom.”
The draconian Computer-Related Crime Act gives broad powers to authorities to restrict online speech and enforce surveillance and censorship. The NCPO has often prosecuted people who post critical commentary about the junta on the internet under article 14 of the law regarding “distorted” and “false” information harmful to national security or public order, with violators facing up to five years in prison.
Since the May 2014 coup, the junta has broadly and arbitrarily interpreted peaceful criticism and dissenting opinions to be disinformation, seditious acts, and threats to national security, Human Rights Watch said. Hundreds of activists and dissidents have been prosecuted on serious criminal charges for peaceful expression of their views. Thousands of people have been summoned by the military and pressured to stop criticizing the junta. The military has frequently arrested and detained people suspected of opposing the junta, holding them for up to seven days without access to lawyers or safeguards against mistreatment.
Repeated public promises by Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha to restore democratic rule, accompanied by the government’s claims that it has adopted a so-called “national human rights agenda,” have not resulted in the junta easing its repressive rule, Human Rights Watch said.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a party, prohibits restrictions on freedom of expression on national security grounds unless they are provided by law, strictly construed, necessary, and proportionate to address a legitimate threat. In particular, laws that impose criminal penalties for peaceful expression are of concern because of their chilling effect on free speech.
In March 2017, Thailand’s delegation told the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which was reviewing the country’s compliance with the ICCPR, that the government respected freedom of expression. However, since taking power, the junta’s respect for freedom of expression has continually worsened, Human Rights Watch said.
“Just months away from planned elections in February 2019, Thailand’s junta is increasingly suppressing free expression,” Adams said. “Thailand’s friends should question whether a government threatening to prosecute a rap group for its critical lyrics is capable of holding a free and fair election.”