Lese Majeste Arrest Prompts Social Media Ban in State Offices

BANGKOK — Bureaucrats across the country have been ordered to refrain from accessing social media sites on their workplace computers after a state employee was arrested for allegedly insulting the monarchy on Facebook.

The ban was spelled out in a document, classified as "Most Urgent," that was sent to every provincial governor by the Ministry of Interior Affairs on 30 January.

The order states that the Ministry has been informed of certain state employees who "use state computers or communication devices in the district offices, city halls, and offices of Department of Provincial Administration to access social media programs, such as Facebook, LINE, email that are not related to bureaucratic operations by sending photos or texts that may violate the Criminal Codes or cause damages to others."

As a result, state officials are no longer permitted to access Facebook or other social media sites on their workplace computers, according to the notice. The order also warns supervisors of all levels that they will be held responsible for any violations by their subordinates. 

Krissada Boonrat, director of the Department of Provincial Administration, told reporters that the order is a response to the recent arrest of a state employee in Sa Kaeo province who allegedly published anti-monarchy photos and text from a computer at a local administrative office.

Police announced the arrest of the official, identified as Chayo Anchaleewachara, on 14 January. He has been charged with Section 112 of the Criminal Codes, which prohibits criticizing the monarchy. Offenders face up to 15 years in prison.

"His case is ongoing," said Krissada. "If he is found guilty, we will take action in accordance with state regulations." He added that state employees can still access Facebook and other social media websites on their personal computers or smartphones. 

"This is not a restriction on civil rights or liberties. It is a measure to prevent bureaucrats from using state equipment to cause any damages," Krissada explained.

At the police press conference on 14 January, a spokesperson for the Thai police force, Pol.Maj.Gen. Prawut Thawornsiri, said that the state official confessed to the crime. 

According to Pol.Maj.Gen. Prawut, the suspect told police he was "misled" by photos and audio on Facebook that criticized the Thai monarchy, and decided to publish more anti-monarchy material. The suspect has been committing the crime for a year, police say. 

Pol.Maj.Gen. Prawut also claimed that the suspect belongs to an underground anti-monarchy network that actively attacks the Royal Family on the internet, and has helped some lese majeste suspects flee from Thailand to Laos. 

"I would like to warn the public that such actions are against the law," Pol.Maj.Gen. Prawut said. "All the [negative] messages about the monarchy are untrue. They are intended to cause disputes in society."

Although discussion of the monarchy remains largely taboo in public, internet forums and social media sites have opened up new spaces for dialogue in recent years. 

After seizing power in a coup d’etat on 22 May 2014, Thailand’s military junta has stepped up efforts to monitor internet users and enforce the draconian lese majeste law, granting martial courts jurisdiction over lese majeste cases and other crimes related to "national security." Appeals are not permitted under the military tribunals.

"We will use legal measures, social-psychological measures, and telecommunications and information technology to deal with those who are not mindful of their words, are arrogant at heart, or harbour ill intentions to undermine the important Institution of the nation," junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told parliament last September. 

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