Thailand’s Massive Internet Censorship
Government objective: Hear no evil, speak no evil
Global Voices Advocacy (GVD), a global anti-censorship network of
bloggers and online activists, has launched a shocking report that
Thailand has blocked at least 113,000 websites deemed to pose a threat
to national security.
With its objective to defend free speech
online, Global Voices revealed that Thailand's Ministry of Information
and Communication Technology (MICT) and the Centre for the Resolution of
Emergency Situations (CRES) admitted to blocking 48,000 websites in May
this year, 50,000 in June and July and adding 500 more per day. Asia
Sentinel has been blocked intermittently in Thailand over stories
critical of the political crisis in the country.
Freedom against Censorship Thailand (FACT), whose website has also been
blocked, conducted its own extensive testing across Thai Internet
service providers (ISPs). It found that ISPs blocked at least a further
15,000. GVD has already criticized the government's policy on curbing
freedom of media and called Thailand an "Internet Desert" approaching
leaders' paranoia in Burma and North Korea.
Almost all blocked
websites were accused of breaching Thailand's infamous lèse-majesté law.
Lèse-majesté, or the crime of injury to the royalty, is defined by
Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, which states that defamatory,
insulting or threatening comments about the king, queen and regent are
punishable by three to 15 years in prison.
On top of this, the
information ministry announced a blacklist of 200 persons banned from
posting to the Internet. This restriction was undefined but presumably
all sites bearing these names will be blocked. This list includes former
Minister of the Prime Minister's Office and Thaksin's confidante
Jakrapob Penkair, and Chulalongkorn University Professor Giles Ji
Ungpakorn. Early this month (July), the Department of Special
Investigation, which handles cases involving plots to overthrow the
monarchy, also set up nine teams to improve efficiency in dealing with
the anti-monarchy network.
The Abhisit government has long
battled with the so-called anti-monarchy movement. Dangerously, the
battle has opened doors for lèse-majesté law to be abused, ironically by
the royalists themselves. In July 2009, Laksana Kornsilpa, a critic of
Thaksin, filed a lèse-majesté complaint against the Foreign
Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) entire board of 13 members for
providing platform for anti-monarchy campaign. She referred to
Jakrapob's controversial talk at the FCCT in August 2007. The content of
his talk cannot be revealed since the revelation can be considered a
breach of the lèse-majesté law.
Human rights groups have voiced
their concerns about the arbitrary use of lèse-majesté. They say they
believe the law has been employed as the government's weapon to silence
the opposition. So far, it has effectively built up a climate of fear
under which those who possess dissenting views now resort to practicing
self-censorship as they express their political opinions.
murky investigation/prosecution process has also added up to the
intensity of fear. Nobody really knows about how many sets of blacklists
the Thai authorities have been making. Who is indeed responsible for
cases involving the violation of lèse-majesté law? The police? The DSI?
The MICT? The Foreign Ministry (for the crime committed outside
Thailand)? Or the Immigration Office?
The punishment is also
getting harsher since the state authorities have defined the threat to
monarchy so closely with the concept of national security.
Thailand, the monarchy is not only a symbolic institution. It is the
pillar of national security," said Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, a former
judge. "Whatever is deemed as affecting the monarchy must be treated as a
threat to national security."
So far, the blocking of websites
has further deepened the politicization of the monarchy and served to
damage, not safeguard, the institution. Social critic and lèse-majesté
case defendant Sulak Sivaraksa said: "The problem of abusing the
lèse-majesté law is now utterly messy. The fact that leading world
intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and others have petitioned to Abhisit to
reform the law is a testimony to it."
Blocking websites will
prove to be futile since the world of Internet is borderless. How many
websites have to be closed down in order to protect national security?
In reality, the government's latest move is likely to hinder its own
effort to achieve reconciliation. The government may argue that some
websites with malicious intent must be banned. But exploiting
lèse-majesté law to undermine political opponents will further deepen
social injustice and aggravate hatred that has prevailed in the Thai
Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a Fellow at the Institute
of Southeast Asian Studies. This is his personal view.