Reporters Without Borders condemns the Thai information ministry’s decision at the start of the month to spend up to 12 million euros on creating an Internet firewall to filter out websites deemed guilty of lese-majeste.
“The Thai government’s desire to control online content is indicative of the difficulties it is encountering in recovering some support,” Reporters Without Borders said. “As King Bhumipol Adulajey is very popular, being over-protective of his image is one of the ways the government is using to win over those calling for its overthrow.”
Information and communications technology minister Man Patanotai has reportedly assigned 500 million bahts (12 million euros) to the creation of an Internet filtering mechanism that would track and automatically block websites that “insult” the monarchy. The firewall would above all be aimed at immediately blocking websites based abroad.
Thailand has one of the world’s severest lese-majeste laws, with penalties ranging from three to 15 years in prison for violators. An Australian writer, Harry Nicolaides, is currently held under this law in Bangkok’s special prison. He was arrested on 31 August in connection with a brief passage critical of the king’s son in his 2005 novel “Verisimilitude”, of which only 50 copies were ever printed.
Thailand has 2.3 per cent of Asia’s Internet users. In July 2007, the government adopted a cyber-crime law that 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.
A blogger known by the pseudonym of Praya Pichai was arrested in August 2007 and held for two weeks on charges of defamation and attacking national security under article 14 of this law for “criticising the monarchy” in an entry posted on his blog (http://www.prachathai.com).