Thailand Continues Massive Crackdown of Online Speech
In Thailand, details of the most recent victim of lèse majesté laws emerged this week, adding to a long year of crackdowns on free speech in the country. Alongside the news coverage, Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) published new analyses demonstrating the magnitude of measures the Southeast Asian state has taken to block websites it deems politically offensive.
On Tuesday, Professor Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a historian and prominent critic of the Thai monarchy, posted updates on a university student who made comments on Facebook in March and April of 2010. According to Political Prisoners in Thailand, royalists attacked the then-18-year-old student, Natthakarn Sakuldarachat, on the Internet for criticizing the King and accused her of lèse majesté, resulting in the university that she had planned to attend subsequently revoking her acceptance because of “her lack of loyalty to the monarchy.” For fear of being harassed, Natthakarn did not show up to exams to apply for another university. While she ultimately was accepted to a school a year later, royalists had in the meantime gone to the police to lodge a complaint for her comments. In October 2011, she was charged under lèse majesté laws. Her first appearance in court is scheduled for February 11th, 2012.
Unfortunately, the Thai government is taking other severe measures to censor its citizens as well. Despite the Thai foreign minister’s admission in October that the government may have been misusing lèse majesté in a way that “inadvertently” stifled free expression, FACT posted a blog summarizing the recent history of free-wheeling Internet censorship in the country. The organization analyzed published reports from Thailand’s iLaw Foundation and other sources, including figures showing hundreds of thousands of sites blocked and billions of baht (equivalent to tens millions of US dollars) spent to block the offending pages. FACT claims that on December 28th alone, the MICT blocked 777,286 websites.
As we’ve reported, Natthakarn is only the most recent case emerging involved lèse majesté charges. There is the continuing case of Prachatai editor Jiew, whose trial resumes February 14th 2012, and the case of an American blogger who recently was sentenced to two and a half years to Thai prison for translating a biography of the King. And around the same time as the announcement that the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) would begin monitoring comments and “likes” on Facebook, a 61-year-old truck driver was sentenced to 20 years for sending texts deemed offensive to the throne. The Thai government has also been found to successfully collect information from web hosting companies to help them identify bloggers’ identities.
EFF condemns the Thai government’s ongoing efforts to silence political speech on the Internet. International awareness of the Thai government’s legal abuses could help pressure the state to re-evaluate its draconian policies. We will be covering the trials of Jiew and Natthakarn in February, and will continue to monitor any developments in the MICT’s war against free expression.