Thai police have opened an investigation against four websites and a Facebook page in an effort to block what they described as false news about a protest movement that appears to be growing despite a government crackdown.
Thailand’s digital minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta said the government would act against two or three media groups and had identified 300,000 URLs that he said contained illegal content.
In recent days, many Thais have signed up to join the encrypted messaging app Telegram in anticipation of a shutdown of media groups and outlets through which they share information and news about the protests.
Organisers were calling for further protests on Monday in Bangkok and other cities around Thailand. On Sunday tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the capital and other cities, in what has become a daily event since authorities declared a state of emergency last week.
The three-month-old protest movement is calling for the resignation of former coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government, a new constitution to replace Thailand’s military-drafted charter and limits on King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s wealth and power.
On Sunday Mr Prayuth was quoted by a spokesman as saying that he supported “freedom of political expression within the legal framework”, striking a relatively conciliatory tone amid signs that the protesters’ hardline tactics are not working.
Chuan Leekpai, the Speaker of Thailand’s lower house, was set on Monday to meet government and opposition MPs to consider the possibility of an extraordinary parliamentary session to discuss the crisis.
An “urgent” emergency decree announced by the government last week banned meetings of more than four people and allowed authorities to hold suspects for up to 30 days without being charged.
Most of the movement’s student leaders have been arrested and detained but some have been released on bail. Police have also warned protesters that taking selfies at demonstrations and publishing them on social media could be used as evidence against them of violating the emergency decree, which is punishable by up to two years in prison or a 40,000 baht ($1,280) fine.
Rather than stopping the demonstrations, the crackdown has transformed the movement from one of carefully planned events announced days in advance — often with stages, loudspeakers, and a speaker roster — into one of leaderless, impromptu flash mobs. Teenage schoolchildren have joined in the protests, and social media have shown them raising the protesters’ three-finger salute in recent days.
“They are not afraid,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the faculty of political science at Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani University. “They are determined to challenge the power of the state right now.”
The protesters have garnered international support via the Milk Tea Alliance, an informal network of activists in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand.
The demonstrators have adopted tactics used in Hong Kong after the crackdown on pro-democracy protests there, including staging multiple protests at once, then dispersing quickly at short notice.
Additional reporting by Ryn Jirenuwat