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What Martial Law in Thailand Means For Freedom of Speech

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, May 21 2014

Some of the "cute soldiers" on Twitter (Screenshot)

Thailand's military chief declared martial law across the country at 3 a.m. Tuesday, just two weeks after the Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was ousted from her post. Citizens seem to be taking the news in stride, taking pictures of and with the soldiers; there is even a Twitter hashtag that encourages people to post pictures of cute soldiers. However, soldiers have taken over TV and radio stations, and have asked social media sites for assistance censoring inflammatory posts.

Per Thailand's Martial Law Act of 1914, the military now has the power to “summon officials and individuals for investigation; search and seize individuals or items; order compulsory military service and forced labour; prohibit assemblies, media coverage, advertising, public transport; destroy 'enemy' dwellings and build army barracks anywhere.”

It seems from the military's declarations that they are interpreting “media coverage” to include social media.

A Tech in Asia guide to staying up to date on Thailand news states:

Without cable TV stations, Thai people rely on public TV channels for news. However, social media like Twitter and Facebook are very popular, and news goes viral very easily. Thus, once again, I’m asking people to think before sharing. Don’t be used. Moreover, don’t spread rumors that could hurt the country in the long term. The world is watching Thailand.

Because public TV channels are often criticized for reporting biased news in favor of the government, more objective coverage can be found on local English-language news sites such as Bangkok Post, The Nation, or independent blogger Richard Barrow. If you can read Thai, the Thai Army Twitter account is a good resource for updates.The hashtag #MartialLawTH is being used on Twitter to keep people up to date.

Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck Shinawatra's brother and a former Prime Minister of Thailand himself (he was overthrown in 2006), stated on Twitter: "The declaration of martial law is expected.... however I hope no party will violate human rights and further destroy democracy.”

Although Thaksin Shinawatra has chosen to live in exile since 2008 to avoid corruption charges, he makes a good point. Hopefully the military will only use it's power to control media and social media when absolutely necessary, and no more.

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