Reporters Without Borders condemns the reinforcement of Internet censorship in Thailand, where 29 websites have been the target of lese-majeste accusations since 20 May. One of the BBC’s correspondents in Bangkok has also been accused of insulting Thailand’s revered monarchy.
“Thai politicians are using the charge of lese-majeste as a pretext for suppressing criticism against themselves,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The targeted websites have not insulted the monarchy, they have criticised the Democrat Party. Political parties are using the monarchy to legitimise their activities. The current political situation is very delicate and the government fears a coup. The climate of paranoia does not bode well for free expression in Thailand.”
Lese-majeste is defined by article 112 of the criminal code, which says that defamatory, insulting or threatening comments about the king, queen or regent are punishable by three to fifteen years in prison.
It was Democrat Party assistant secretary-general Thepthai Senpong who asked information minister Man Pattanotai on 20 May to take measures against the 29 websites because of
content considered by the party to be insulting towards the monarchy.
In an interview for the “Khao Den Praden Ron” news programme on radio 96.5 MHz six days before, the minister was asked about bringing legal action against websites over content constituting lese-majeste. He replied: “Doing so will become a big scandal. We’d better suppress the news. Someone higher than me is of this opinion.”
Interior minister Chalerm Yubamrung reported on 27 May that all the websites concerned had been examined and their editors contacted by the police so that they would “adjust” their content. He warned that website owners were also responsible for comments posted abroad, and that any negligence would be regarded as complicity.
Jonathan Head, a BBC correspondent based in Bangkok, has been accused of lese-majeste by a critic of deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on the basis of photos on the BBC News website that were held to be insulting to the monarchy. The police have opened a formal investigation into the complaint.
The Computer Crime Act that took effect on 18 July 2007 authorises the police to seize the computer data of people suspected of disseminating insulting or pornographic content online. The individual records of Internet users must be kept by ISPs for 90 days and can be examined by the authorities without referring to a judge. The police can also confiscate any computer if they suspect it has been used for illegal purposes.
For more information
On the blocked websites
On the case of Jonathan Head
The text of the law is available here