Thailand must stop royal slurs online, says PM amid outcry over single Internet gateway

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said the kingdom must counter online dissent and royal defamation. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's Premier on Friday (Oct 9) said the kingdom must counter online dissent and royal defamation, as a public outcry mounts over junta plans to launch a single Internet gateway that critics say will muzzle the web.

Activists brought down several government websites last week in protest at plans dubbed the "Great Firewall of Thailand", a play on China's draconian Internet censorship programme.

Nearly 150,000 people have signed an online petition against the proposal seen as a way to more easily block content on the web, one of the biggest public rallying points since the military seized power from an elected government last year.

On his weekly "Returning happiness to the nation" programme on Friday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha reiterated "no conclusions" had been reached on the plans and that "human rights must be respected".

But he stressed that Thailand faces "cyber threats" and political misinformation, urging viewers "to find an effective way to handle illegal websites, and those that defame our highest institution (the monarchy)", in a transcript released before the televised broadcast.

Thailand's royal family is protected by one of the world's strictest and most controversial lese majeste laws under which prosecutions have skyrocketed since the coup.

The vast majority of recent cases have been brought over comments made online - including a record-breaking 30-year sentence for one man over the content of six Facebook posts.

Activists opposed to a single gateway have vowed to take action if the government does not cancel or review its plans by Oct 14.

In a Facebook post published earlier on Friday the group "Citizens Against Single Gateway: Thailand Internet Firewall" warned that if their deadline passed unheeded they would take "tougher" action that "may affect services provided by some public agencies".

Thai government websites last week were hit by Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, which cripple a targeted website by barraging it with automated requests from multiple sources, making it almost impossible to prevent.

The authorities responded by saying they would trace and arrest future attackers.

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