Health Before Rights and Liberties: Thailand’s Response to COVID-19

On 13 January, Thailand was the first country outside of China to confirm a COVID-19 case. Prayuth invoked the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation on 26 March 2020. At present, new cases are down to a single-digit figure per day. However, the 2005 Emergency Decree may not be the appropriate tool, as it has misled the public’s understanding of the pandemic and allows the government to employ unnecessarily harsh measures, leading to over-criminalization and arguable abuses of power.

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Thailand’s Obsession with Clean Politics Dismantles its Democracy

On 21 February, the already fragile Thai democracy became even more vulnerable as the Constitutional Court dissolved the Future Forward Party, the third largest party and the most active opposition against the government of Prayuth Chan-ocha. This case is the latest in the series of judicial overreach in Thailand. The phenomenon is being fueled by the unhealthy obsession of building clean politics which yields an opposite result.

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Truth vs. Free Speech

Southeast Asian governments have been stepping up their efforts to actively manage the truth by combatting false information. Among the main tools are correction orders and state-run “fake news centers” that monitor and “rectify” alleged falsehoods online. In addition, government discourse employs increasingly belligerent language to denounce the perceived threats. The Southeast Asian “war on fake news” thus makes the region the world’s most vibrant laboratory of anti-falsehood legislation. The protection of the truth is becoming an increasingly accepted ground for restricting free speech.

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A Look behind the Fake News Laws of Southeast Asia

In Southeast Asia, attempts to regulate the fake news phenomenon can be broadly categorized, on the one hand, in cases where fake news laws are conceived at least also as the government’s weapon to silence critics and dissenters, and on the other hand, cases where the discourse is lead more open-ended. Under the first category, Malaysia springs to mind, Cambodia and Vietnam possibly too. Thailand is a somewhat mixed case. Much more open-ended are the fake news discourses in Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore.

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A Constitutional Court Silencing its Critics

After twenty years of operation, the Thai Constitutional Court has finally got its first statute that lays out details of procedural rules. The Organic Act on the Procedure of the Constitutional Court B.E. 2561 (2018) is long overdue. A decade of political chaos had prevented the Parliament from passing the law until the military took power in 2014. The junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly expected it to facilitate the Court through the foreseeably turbulent future. Ironically, turbulences might come from the law itself.

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