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Thai court suspends government order on 'false messages'

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By Reuters

BANGKOK – A Thai court on Friday suspended the implementation of a government order to ban the dissemination of “false messages” and distorted news, ruling it breached individual rights and freedom enshrined in the constitution.

Media groups had filed a petition to revoke the order after accusing the government of intending to use it to crack down on criticism over its handing of the coronavirus pandemic.

The government had denied it was aimed at the media and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said last week that the spread of fake news had become a major problem causing confusion in society and undermining the ability to manage the pandemic.

The order issued last week, which also empowered the state regulator to block internet access and take legal action against those it believed were spreading false news, came after the government faced a public backlash over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Thailand Civil Court ruled that the order breached individual rights and freedom enshrined by the constitution and therefore could not be enforced, after 12 online media organisations filed a petition to the court this week.

In a statement, the court said the order could lead to “the deprivation of rights and freedom of the plaintiffs and people as protected by the constitution,” and that the order’s phrasing was ambiguous and “opens a possibility to a broad interpretation,” which would limit freedom of expression.

The court also said the order, which would empower the state regulator to order service providers to block internet access to individual IP addresses, was unlawful. It therefore issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that suspended the order’s enforcement.

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri declined to comment on the court decision when contacted by Reuters.

Thailand is battling its deadliest surge of coronavirus infections yet, registering daily records in infections and deaths on Friday, heightening concerns over a sluggish vaccine rollout.

Authorities have been taking legal action against some people, including celebrities and social media influencers, who have criticised the pandemic response.