Thai protests: Authorities to ban Telegram to maintain the status quo in the name of “Change”

Bangkok: The authorities in Thailand reportedly ordered internet providers to block the Telegram messaging app due to its use by anti-government protesters with a separate probe against 4 news channels that were covering mass protests.

Local media on Monday reported the government’s plan to block Telegram following a ‘very confidential’ document leaked that went viral on social media. Telegram is popularly a secure messaging app being used by activists to organize protests at short notice.

The said document, drafted and produced by Thailand’s digital economy ministry, was sent to the Thai’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission. Digital economy ministry is empowered to censoring the internet and social media applications in Thailand.

The document stated that the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society was seeking the Commission’s cooperation to notify the internet service providers and mobile networks to suspend the Telegram app.

Police have also told the reporters that they had asked the digital ministry to limit the Free Youth’s group on Telegram. Free Youth Group in recent months played a key role in organizing protests. It is, however, unclear how effective the order would be in curtailing the democracy movement.

According to BBC, Police have also threatened to shut four news outlets for violating a decision pronounced last week to end the rallies. However, members of the student-led movement gathered against the decision and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, a former army chief who came into power through a coup in 2014.

The gathered activists are also demanding the curbs on the powers of the monarchy. The demands of the general public for reforms including questioning the role of monarchy have grown. Monarchy is long seen as sacred in Thailand.

Thai police further said they were also investigating the four well-known news organizations on the charges of live-coverage of the protests. It is pertinent to mention that Prachatai, Voice TV, The Reporters and The Standard have extensively covered the protest sites.

The authorities so far have failed to curb the rallies since the issuance of an emergency order. The peaceful protesters still gathering in Bangkok and the rest of the country.

Since Tuesday, at least 80 people have been arrested and they would be serving a long sentence up to 15 years if found to have violated Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws. Lese majaste law bans criticism of the monarchy.

A new wave of political unrest boosted in February after the main opposition party was ordered to dissolve.

After dissolution, the election took place in March which was the first one since the military coup in 2014. The election not only provided the first chance to young people and first-time voters to exercise their right to cast vote but it was also an opportunity for a change.

Prayuth Chan-Ocha, backed by the military, again entered the office of prime minister. The pro-democracy and youth-oriented Future Forward Party (FFP), with its charismatic leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, bagged the third-largest share of seats.

However, in February, a court ruled that Thanathorn gave a loan to FFP which was deemed a donation and making it illegal. The party was ordered to disband which prompted thousands of young Thais to join street protests.

The protests were stopped due to Covid-19 pandemic but they began again in June when a prominent pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who had been living in Cambodia in exile since 2014, abducted and went missing.

Protesters blamed the Thai state of kidnapping but the government and police denied. Recently, the pro-democracy activists challenged the king’s decision declaring Crown wealth as his personal property, which made him the richest person in Thailand.

After the challenge, the wealth has until now been held in trust for the benefit of the people. There have also been questions over the king’s decision to take personal command of all military units based in Bangkok – a concentration of military power in royal hands unprecedented in modern Thailand.

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