Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about online free expression in Thailand following the new government’s decision to make monitoring the Internet a priority in order to prevent insults to the monarchy. Ranongrak Suwanchawee, minister of information and communications technology in the government that took over on 15 December, says more that 2,300 websites have been blocked and 400 are being investigated. Nearly 2 million euros (80 million baht) have been earmarked for web filtering.
“We condemn these measures taken by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, which represent a grave attack on free expression for the sake of combating a poorly defined crime,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is surprising that this has suddenly become a priority although Internet access is far from being general in Thailand. It is important the government should agree to debate the online activities of the country’s Internet users.”
Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a political science professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, was yesterday ordered to appear on 20 January at a Bangkok police station to be charged under the lese majeste law in connection with his book “A Coup for the Rich,” which can be downloaded at no cost from his blog, http://www.wdpress.blog.co.uk.
An Australian writer from Melbourne, Harry Nicolaides, has been detained on a lese-majeste charge since his arrest on 31 August as he was about to board a flight back to Australia. He used to teach at Mae Fah Luang university in the northern city of Chiang Rai and wrote for magazines and websites. His four requests for provisional release have all been rejected.
Suwanchawee, the new minister of information and communications technology, announced on 29 December that blocking websites that insult the monarchy would be her ministry’s main task. She added that her predecessor in the post was “mistaken in believing that little could be done to control sites originating overseas.”
Two days before that, members of the Democrat Party-led government called for the lese-majeste legislation to be made tougher, while the army’s commander in chief, Gen. Anupong Paojinda, told his officers to make sure there were no attacks on the king. Speaking to more than 800 battalion commanders, he urged each battalion to monitor one to two websites for negative content about the monarchy.
Thailand has 14 million Internet users, which is about 20 per cent of the population. An association called Thai Netizen is to meet the new prime minister tomorrow in order to submit a petition for the defence of online free expression and propose a compromise on this issue. Created at the initiative of media advocate Supinya Klangnarong, Thai Netizen groups bloggers and Internet users who campaign for online free expression in Thailand.
When websites are blocked in Thailand, it is done by means of informal requests from the authorities to Internet Service Providers - request without any legal status.
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 15 years in prison. Under a cyber-crime law adopted in 2007, 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.