Thailand: Military-Backed Government Censors Internet

Reuters AlertNet
24 May 2007 17:29:09 GMT

Source: Human Rights Watch

Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of
this article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed
are the author’s alone.

(New York, May 24,
2007)  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 today. Since the
current government came to power after a September 2006 coup against
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Thai authorities have been active in
silencing cyber critics and dissidents. This is in stark contradiction
to Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont’s pledges to create an atmosphere
conducive to democratization and political reform. “A
major complaint about Thaksin 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 the Ministry of Information
and Communications Technology (MICT) and the Royal Thai Police, in
collaboration with the Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT) and
the Telecommunication Authority (TOT), which provide Thailand’s
international internet gateways. Since the 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. Based
on this continuous surveillance, officials from the MICT and the Royal
Thai Police have 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 September
19, 2006 coup and the subsequent role of the military in Thai politics.
Websites blocked include the September 19 Network (www.19sep.net and www.19sep.org) and websites known to be supportive of Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai party, such as the online telecast of PTV television (www.ptvthai.com), the online broadcast of Saturday Voice (www.saturdaylive.org and saturdayvoice.no-ip.info) and the online broadcast of FM 87.75 Taxi Community Radio (www.shinawatradio.com). Hosts of popular political blogs used among cyber critics and dissidents, such as BlogSpot (www.blogspot.com), have also been blocked by some ISPs. Internet
users attempting to access blocked websites encounter either an “Access
Denied” message, are redirected to the MICT website, or receive a
notice with the MICT’s logo saying that access to such websites has
been blocked due to “inappropriate content” (w3.mict.go.th/ci/blocked.hrml). The
MICT has also blocked anonymous proxy servers through which Thai
internet users can access a blocked webpage. The ministry has requested
Google Thailand (www.google.co.th)
and Google.com to block access to its cached web pages in Thailand by
which blocked pages can be accessed, as well as to block by keyword
search. In addition, Thai authorities are monitoring critical opinions and debates on popular opinion boards of Prachathai (www.prachatai.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, now known as the Council for National Security (CNS),
made their intentions to control the internet known soon after the coup
by issuing Order Number 5/2549, which authorized the MICT to shut down
internet sites for posting inaccurate content and material deemed to be
harming government reform efforts.On September 29, 2006, access to a leading non-formal education center, the Midnight University website (www.midnightuniv.org)  which recorded more than half a million visitors per month from all
over the world, thousands of articles and discussion boards was
temporarily blocked after its staff held a protest against the coup.
Access to the Midnight University website was possible again only after
its staff obtained a temporary restraining order from the
Administrative Court ordering the MICT to unblock their website. 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. On May 9, 2007, the
legislation was quickly passed in the second and third readings by an
overwhelming 119-1 vote by members of the National Legislative
Assembly. The law provides broad powers to officials appointed by the
MICT minister to intercept and seize computer data, and seek court
warrants to block the dissemination of information on the internet if
such information is considered as a threat to national security
according to the Penal Code. 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 by the
authorities against political opponents and critics of military rule.
sused by the authorities against political opponents and critics of
military rule. sused by the authorities against political opponents and
critics of military rule. sused by the authorities against political
opponents and critics of military rule. sused by the authorities
against political opponents and critics of military rule. sused by the
authorities against political opponents and critics of military rule.
sused by the authorities against political opponents and critics of
military rule. sused by the authorities against political opponents and
critics of military rule. Human Rights Watch said that freedom
of expression and pluralism, including tolerance of dissenting views,
is vital if Thailand wants to be a rights-respecting democracy. 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?”

HRW news

ZDNet Asia - Where technology means business

Human rights group raps Thai cyber clampdown
By Achara Ashayagachat, Bangkok Post
Friday , May 25 2007 10:45 AM

Human Rights Watch has joined local and international netizens in
criticizing the interim Thai government’s censorship of the Internet,
saying the move has undermined free political debate and delayed the
return to democracy.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch on Thursday issued a
statement critical of the Thai authorities who have been active in
silencing cyber critics and dissidents, in stark contradiction of Prime
Minister Surayud Chulanont’s pledges to create an atmosphere conducive
to democratization and political reform.

“A major complaint about 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, which currently is being carried
out by the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and
the Royal Thai Police, in collaboration with the Communications
Authority of Thailand (CAT) and the Telecommunications Authority, has
blocked many political Web sites and blogs.

Wrangling over the blocking of YouTube
due to content on the site related to His Majesty the King has also
raised global concerns about the future of freedom of expression and
the Internet in Thailand.

“The military and government are clearly worried that Thaksin
may return to power and are engaging in censorship to stop this,” said
Mr 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 NGO also criticized the bill on computer-related offenses, which was tabled last November and quickly passed earlier this month.

Human Rights Watch cited particular concern over broad powers
given to ICT officials to intercept and seize computer data, and seek
court warrants to block the dissemination of information on the
Internet.

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

Canada-based Article 19 and Bangkok-based Freedom Against
Censorship Thailand (Fact) have also called for amendment of the bill
for fear that the harsh penalties stipulated could be abused and the
law might be interpreted by people with no computer experience or legal
expertise.

Go to Google News Home

Human Rights Watch slams Thailand’s clampdown on cyber critics
Bangkok Post, Thailand – May 23, 2007
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
Human Rights Watch (press release) – 12 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
Thailand: Military-Backed Government Censors Internet
YubaNet, CA – 15 hours ago
Thailand’s
military-backed government is undermining free political debate and
delaying the return to democracy by barring access to many political
websites
Web censorship draws rising global concern
Bangkok Post, Thailand – 10 hours ago
Human
Rights Watch has joined local and international ”netizens” in
criticising the interim government’s censorship of the internet, saying
the move has
Thailand: Military-Backed Government Censors Internet
Reuters AlertNet, UK – 12 hours ago
Reuters
and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this article or for
any external internet sites. The views expressed are the author’s
alone.
Human rights group raps Thai cyber clampdown
ZDNet Asia, Asia – 3 hours ago
By
Achara Ashayagachat, Bangkok Post. Human Rights Watch has joined local
and international netizens in criticizing the interim Thai government’s
censorship
Five years in jail for accessing banned websites
AsiaNews.it, Italy – 15 hours ago
Thailand’s
military government is introducing legislation to censor the internet.
Various sites deemed dangerous to national security have been blocked.

Human rights group says Thailand stifling online debate
Philippine Star, Philippines – May 23, 2007
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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