A Taiwanese man is expected to face trial in Thailand for his “crime” of hosting a radio station that broadcast uncensored news to people in China. Beijing is believed to have applied pressure on Thai authorities to arrest the man.
The victim, Chiang Yung-Hsin aged 52 years, is accused of establishing a station without securing an appropriate permit. The station, Sound of Hope (SOH), is a radio network from San Diego that is supported by practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual group that has been severely persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Chiang has denied the charges and stated that the station was set up by some of his friends.
Frank Lee, a spokesman for the SOH, revealed that the Thai government had fraudulently forced Chiang to sign certain documents that attested to him pleading guilty when he was arrested. No translator was provided during the signing and Chiang apparently did not know that the document might implicate him in the case. “Giving in to the pressure from Beijing to suppress free press is not good for Thailand and its people… Mr. Chiang is a volunteer for SOH; he didn’t do this for his own gain. We urge the Thai government to free Mr. Chiang so that he can return to Taiwan to his wife and two children,” Lee said in a statement (Radio Free Asia).
Thai authorities have dismissed Lee’s allegations and said that they acted in accordance with local laws and that no Chinese pressure was involved. Chiang apparently broke the Radio Communications Act and the Broadcasting and Television Business Act, both of which require operators to procure necessary licenses before commencing activities. If convicted, Chiang could end up in jail for a period of up to five years.
Chiang’s arrest and the trial have attracted much international attention, with several rights groups criticizing the actions of the Thai government. Freedom House accused the state of deceiving Chiang to sign a confession by taking advantage of his lack of knowledge of the native language. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), some of their sources confirmed Beijing’s involvement in the arrest. “This totally unjustified arrest deals a new blow to the freedom to inform in Thailand and penalizes Chinese listeners who count on this radio station for information that circumvents censorship… We call on the Thai authorities to stop abetting Beijing’s operations against opposition media outlets and to drop the charges against Chiang,” RSF said in a statement (RSF).
With China emerging as a dominant global force, its censorship practices have been lapped up by countries like Thailand and Vietnam. In February this year, Thailand passed a new cybersecurity law that is modeled on Chinese laws that allow the government to access any person’s data or electronic equipment without a court order. There is a rumor that Thailand might try subverting American companies to adhere to its increasingly pro-censorship framework to do business in the country.
“If authorities in the region can convince Silicon Valley to play by their repressive rules, we’re going to see a drop in standards of privacy, surveillance, and freedom of expression on those platforms… How Silicon Valley chooses to engage with the likes of Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia could set major precedents. They must not treat those countries as testbeds to tinker with people’s rights online,” Tanya O’Carroll, head of technology and human rights at Amnesty International, said to the Bangkok Post.
Right now, the prevalence of American social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and so on prevent Thailand from being another China in terms of censorship. However, there is a risk that Chinese Internet giants like TikTok, WeChat, Weibo, and Alipay might win in the long term, thereby tightening the grip of Thai state censors on social media.