Thai junta plans new military unit to curb online dissent

A man works inside a network room at a company in Bangkok, Thailand. Thailand's junta said it planned to create a new military unit to fight online dissent.
A man works inside a network room at a company in Bangkok, Thailand. Thailand's junta said it planned to create a new military unit to fight online dissent.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's junta Tuesday (Oct 20) said it planned to create a new military unit to fight online dissent, as Internet freedom campaigners said they were training hundreds of volunteers for a "cyber war" against censorship.

The proposed unit follows controversial plans for a single access point to the Internet, dubbed by online protesters as the "Great Firewall of Thailand" - in reference to China's draconian web surveillance - because it would make it easier to monitor the web.

While Thai premier Prayut Chan-o-cha has insisted no conclusions have been reached on the single gateway, the issue has mobilised campaigners.

On Tuesday defence minister Prawit Wongsuwon told reporters the military is planning to form a new unit to counter online dissent.

"It's to prevent new types of threats, it's a pre-emptive measure," he said, without elaborating on the nature of the threats or the remit of the new body.

The announcement comes at a time the regime has expressed mounting concerns over perceived royal defamation with prosecutions skyrocketing since the May 2014 military takeover.

Earlier Tuesday the "Citizens Against Single Gateway: Thailand Internet Firewall" vowed to launch unspecified attacks against the junta if the gateway plans were not cancelled.

"In order to win the cyber war this time, we must use brains, skills and patience," said the group in a Facebook post.

Earlier this month it brought down several government websites in Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks - an onslaught that cripples websites by barraging them with automated requests from multiple sources.

Authorities responded by saying they would trace and arrest future attackers. A spokesman for the group told AFP that it had "trained several hundred people" for cyber attacks.

"We're training them in how to prevent being traced by the government," the spokesman said in an email.

Thailand's monarchy is protected by one of the world's strictest lese majeste laws with most new cases brought over perceived insults online.

In a record-breaking August conviction a man was sentenced to 30-years over the content of six Facebook posts. More than 150,000 supporters have signed an online petition against the new censorship proposals.