BANGKOK, Thailand -- Free speech and pro-democracy activists, Thai
journalists and others are encrypting their telephone and message
conversations, shrinking their Facebook presence and finding other
ways to avoid the coup-installed military junta's Internet war against
political discussions, satire and demands for regime change.
   Two years after seizing power on May 22, 2014, the junta says it
must monitor and censor Internet to stop illegal online activity --
not just politics -- including thieves, counterfeiters, human
smugglers and black-marketeers dealing in weapons and drugs.
   National security and keeping peace in the streets are also
priorities for blocking online content, the junta says, pointing to
political clashes in Bangkok during 2010 and 2014 which left more than
120 people dead.
   China muzzles pro-democracy Internet activity with a so-called
Great Firewall, which is much more efficient than Thailand's blocks
against online news, opinions and other data.
   The U.S.-trained Thai military does not appear skilled enough to
effectively silence the dissidents who are helped by local and foreign
"script kiddies" and professional computer-savvy colleagues.
   But the regime is able to monitor lots of anti-junta activity, and
then make arrests.
   One of the latest targets hit by the regime was a Facebook page
named "We Love Prayuth" which mocked Prayuth Chan-ocha who, as army
chief, led the 2014 coup before retiring as a general and taking over
the prime ministry.
   Manipulated photographs showed Prime Minister Prayuth and his
military colleagues in ridiculous and insulting ways, similar to
distorted photos of them elsewhere online which are accompanied by
taunts, vulgarities and defiant comments.
   When eight Thais allegedly linked to the Facebook page were
arrested in their homes on April 25, they were quickly dubbed "The
Facebook 8," and received support from pro-democracy activists against
charges of incitement under the Criminal Code and violating the
Computer Crime Act.
   Many people suspected Facebook secretly allowed the regime to
access their eight accounts, including their internal messages and
lists of friends.
   "Facebook uses advanced systems to keep people's information
secure," Facebook's Asia-Pacific representative Charlene Chian told
reporters after the arrests.
   Nevertheless, paranoia spread with some people advising users to
cancel their Facebook accounts in favor of competing social media
   Others chose software such as WhatsApp to encrypt their messaging
and telephone conversations.
   The regime has detained hundreds of people during the past two
years for speech-related activity online or in public.
   Many of them had to undergo "attitude adjustment" re-education at
military camps for several days.
   They often have to sign documents promising never to engage in
political activity against the junta, or leave Thailand without
   Civilian violators can face a military trial, have their financial
assets seized, and be imprisoned.
   U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies met Foreign Minister Don
Pramudwinai on May 12 to hear Bangkok's concern over the U.S. State
Department's criticism against the regime's online crackdown against
the Facebook 8 and others.
   "We are troubled by the recent arrests of individuals in connection
with online postings," State Department spokeswoman for East Asia and
the Pacific, Katina Adams, said on May 11.
   "The arrest and harassment of activists and their family members
raise serious concerns about Thailand's adherence to its international
obligation to protect freedom of expression," Ms. Adams said.
   The U.S. ambassador publicly reiterated that statement at a news
conference at the Foreign Ministry after meeting Mr. Don.
   Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal
Periodic Review heard several countries criticize Thailand in Geneva,
Switzerland, for opposing free speech and committing other violations.
   But despite complaints by Thais who oppose the regime's
restrictions, only a few symbolic protests involving a handful of
people have appeared on the streets of Bangkok and other cities in
recent months.
   Pravit Rojanaphruk, an outspoken critic who twice underwent
"attitude adjustment" during the past two years, said on his Twitter
account on April 27 that the "junta managed to prevent large street
demonstrations. Now it's trying to instill fear on social media."
   A small New Democracy Movement, for example, held modest anti-junta
events including one titled, "Making Fun Is Not A Crime."
   Dissidents know the junta's monitoring is widespread and difficult
to avoid -- if the regime decides to focus on an individual --
especially because all Thais and foreigners must register their names,
addresses and other personal details when purchasing a cell phone
   "Thai authorities are able to track your cell phone every moment
when you walk," said New Democracy Movement member Than Rittiphan, 24,
in an e-mail interview on May 14.
   "This is clearly impacting upon my personal life. I have to be
aware that the Thai junta is after everyone in the New Democracy
Movement" -- which he claims has "hundreds" of members nationwide.
   "We cannot discuss or have any communication by calling each other,
because we know that they are watching us," Mr. Than said.
   He said the regime's surveillance is comparable to former East
Germany's Stasi internal security force which used informants,
listening devices and dossiers to control the population until 1989.
   "We all know that those Stasi are trying to gain our information,"
Mr. Than said.
   Most opponents of the junta publicly appear to be cowed by the
threat of imprisonment or apathetic about any protest movement
loosening the regime's grip.
   "One fears being hauled in at any time for 'attitude adjustment' or
other processes -- they seem to be making up new offences every day,"
a Bangkok-based computer hardware and software analyst said in an
e-mail interview, asking to remain anonymous because of the
sensitivity of the subject.
   The junta's online blocks seem to be "an attempt to emulate the
Chinese, but the country is too porous," he said.
   "The main problem for the enforcers is...a skilled user-base. VPNs
are widely used -- I don't bother -- and proxy access," he said,
referring to software which can slowly route around online censorship.
   The junta's software is "perhaps just DNS or IP number blocking --
but it is effective. For example, nothing from the Daily Mail is
allowed to get through," he said.
   That British tabloid news site has been blocked online in Thailand
for more than a year, apparently because the paper earlier published
an unflattering story.
   "Certain other sites are also blocked, and anything that might be
contentious is blocked," the analyst said.
   At the English-language Bangkok Post newspaper, some Thai and
foreign staff are experimenting with ways to use Internet with more
   "People at the newspaper have become much more aware of their
online security, including the use of encrypted programs for chatting,
texting and the like," said Bangkok Post political columnist Alan
Dawson in an e-mail interview on May 13.
   "Anecdotal evidence makes me believe a lot more people are using
VPN-type software to access the Internet.
   "The government clearly believes it can emerge in a fairly short
time with Chinese-style control of the Internet," Mr. Dawson said.
   "With people going to jail weekly or more often, people naturally
think about their personal security.
   "It is clear the military government is continuously tightening
control and stepping up [online] monitoring and prosecutions," Mr.
Dawson said.
   Creating or using a "#" hashtag on Twitter can also result in
arrest if the hashtag's wordage is perceived to be against the junta,
warned New York University digital media student Thitipol
Panyalimpanun on his @thitipolp Twitter account on April 29.
   The junta uses a vague but severe Computer-Related Crime Act,
enacted in 2007, to jail online offenders.
   Inserting into Internet "false data that can damage another person
or the public" or "undermine national security or public safety" is
punishable by five years imprisonment.
   Anyone who "forwards or publishes" that data -- including service
providers who offer "intentional support" to such activity -- can also
be jailed for five years.
   Uploading "altered photos that impair or damage another, cause
hate, contempt, humiliation, etc. with malicious intent" can result in
a three-year prison sentence.
   Thais and "non-Thai citizens" -- including Americans -- anywhere in
the world, are "subject to extradition and punishment if the injured
person is Thai," according to the law.
   During the past few decades, Thais, Americans and others have been
jailed or threatened with imprisonment for defamation based on written
statements, translations and other verbal or photographic activity
committed in Thailand or while abroad.
   But most of those cases were based on non-digital media such as
books and printed photos.
   For many years, all foreigners staying in Thailand were required to
report to the authorities every 90 days to reconfirm their local
address and other details.
   In April, the regime handed them a document which also asked for a
list of "all social media used by [the] foreigner" plus additional
personal information.
   The crackdown coincides with Mr. Prayuth's restrictions against
public expression either for or against his chosen draft for a new
   The junta created a controversial 239-article draft constitution to
replace a more liberal charter which Mr. Prayuth abolished.
   The draft constitution was recently unveiled so it can be voted on
in a nationwide "yes" or "no" referendum on August 7.
   In 2014, six days after the coup, then-British Ambassador Mark Kent
surprised pro-democracy activists when he posted on his Twitter
   "I used to live in Vietnam.  When I had problems accessing
Facebook, I used the Freegate VPN

   Mr. Kent also temporarily added the hashtags "#Coup #Junta #Human
rights" to his Twitter profile's banner to alert followers where they
could find more information about the military's putsch.