Human Rights Watch Slams Thailand For Policing Internet


May 24, 2007 16:34 PM

BANGKOK, May 24 (Bernama) — Thailand’s military-backed government is
undermining free political debate and delaying the return to democracy
by barring access to many political websites, the Human Rights Watch
(HRW) said Thursday.

The New York-based HRW said that since the current
military-installed government came to power after the Sept 2006 coup
against prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai authorities had
been active in silencing cyber critics and dissidents.

“A major complaint about Thaksin was his muzzling of the media and
willingness to limit free speech. The military-backed government
promised a quick return to democracy, but it’s now attacking freedom of
expression and political pluralism in ways that Thaksin never dared,”
Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said in a statement.

He said this was in stark contradiction to Prime Minister Surayud
Chulanont’s pledges to create an atmosphere conducive to
democratisation and political reform.

The HRW said censorship of the internet was now being carried out
by the Information and Communications Technology Ministry and the
police in collaboration with the Communications Authority of Thailand
and the Telecommunication Authority, which provide Thailand’s
international Internet gateways.

Since the coup, the ministry has employed “around-the-clock
watchers” to monitor content on the Internet to find information
considered to be offending the monarchy (a criminal offence in Thailand
punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment), threatening national
security, disrupting public order, or being obscene.

The HRW said that based on this continuous surveillance, officials
from the minisrtry and the police had distributed names of websites,
both domestic and foreign, to government and private Internet service
providers (ISPs), telling the ISPs to block access to blacklisted
websites.

Many of the blocked websites were established in opposition to the
Sept 19 coup and the subsequent role of the military in Thai politics,
it said.

Adams said the military and government were clearly worried that
Thaksin might return to power and were engaging in censorship to stop
this.

— BERNAMA

THAILAND: INTERNET CENSORSHIP DELAYS DEMOCRACY, WARNS HRW

New York, 24 May (AKI) – Thailand’s military-backed government is
undermining free political debate and delaying the return to democracy
by barring access to many political websites, Human Rights Watch said
Thursday. “A major complaint about (former prime minister) Thaksin
Shinawatra was his muzzling of the media and willingness to limit free
speech,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The
military-backed government promised a quick return to democracy, but
it’s now attacking freedom of expression and political pluralism in
ways that Thaksin never dared.”

Censorship of the internet is
now being carried out by various government agencies, led by the
Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MICT).

Since last September coup, the MICT has employed around-the-clock
“watchers” to monitor content on the internet to find information
considered to be offending the monarchy (a criminal offense in Thailand
punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment), threatening national
security, disrupting public order, or being obscene.

The MICT
and the Police have asked internet service providers to block access to
blacklisted websites. The MICT has also blocked anonymous proxy servers
through which Thai internet users can access a blocked webpage.

In addition, Thai authorities are monitoring critical opinions and
debates on popular opinion boards of Prachathai (www.prachathai.com)
and Pabtip.Com (www.pantip.com). They have issued warnings to both
websites that they, too, would be shut down if they failed to remove
opinions critical of the military junta.

“The military and
government are clearly worried that Thaksin may return to power and are
engaging in censorship to stop this,” said Adams. “But instead of
resorting to draconian restrictions on free speech, the Thai
authorities need to realize that their promised return to democracy
requires opening the political process.”

The coup leaders made
their intentions to control the internet known soon after the coup by
issuing an order, which authorized the MICT to shut down internet sites
for posting inaccurate content and material deemed to be harming
government reform efforts.

On November 15, 2006, the
government introduced a draft law to criminalize the generation,
possession, storage, dissemination of and access to prohibited
information on the internet. The Bill on Computer-Related Offenses
passed its first reading on the same date and two more on May 9, 2007.

The law carries harsh penalties for those found guilty of offenses,
including a penalty of up to five years of imprisonment and/or a fine
of up to 100,000 baht (US$2,700).

Lawyers, internet and
media professionals, and bloggers fear that in a tense political
environment, these provisions could easily be misused against political
opponents and critics of military rule.

Human Rights Watch
said that freedom of expression and pluralism is vital if Thailand
wants to be a rights-respecting democracy and active exchanges of
peaceful ideas and opinions should be encouraged, not punished.

“Freedom of expression, including offering opinions on the internet, is
an essential basis of any functioning democracy,” Adams said. “Blocking
critical websites resembles the behavior of China and Vietnam. Is this
the company that Thailand’s leaders want to keep?”

Go to Google News Home
Human Rights Watch slams Thailand’s clampdown on cyber critics
Bangkok Post, Thailand – 4 hours ago
Thailand’s
military-backed government has undermined free political debate with
its recent crackdown on cyber critics, the New York-based Human Rights
Watch

Thailand: Military-Backed Government Censors Internet
Davao Today, Philippines – 8 hours ago
(New
York, May 24, 2007) – Thailand’s military-backed government is
undermining free political debate and delaying the return to democracy
by barring access

Human rights group says Thailand stifling online debate
Philippine Star, Philippines – 5 hours ago
BANGKOK
(AFP) – Thailand is stifling free political debate in the kingdom by
shutting down political websites and moving to silence online critics,

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