Thailand: Internet Freedom Threats and Violations

Having a democratically elected government is no guarantee for achieving net freedom. Thailand is a case in point.

The rise in internet censorship took place despite the pledge of the newly elected government to “restore democracy” and bring the country toward national reconciliation after years of protracted political conflict.

The number of blocked URLs, and the number of computer related crime cases  have been on a rise, while the Yingluck Administration vowed to not only maintain the internet censorship legal frameworks – legacy of the authoritarian days – intact, but have also increased its budget for the Ministry of Information and Communication (ICT). Since taking power, the government boasted a record of 73,000 blocked sites.

It was not a surprise to close observers of Thai politics then that the Yingluck government became the first to endorse Twitter's new ‘censorship tools.’ Else where in the world netizens protested such move from Twitter to limit the freedom of expression online. Yet in Thailand, such tool has come at an opportune time when net censorship is part of the new government's policy agenda.

Anudith Nakornthap, Thailand's Minister of Information and Communication Technology welcomes Twitter's new policy.

“It [the policy] matches up with the government's approach to protect net users from violating laws and regulations. Real freedom comes when you don't violate other users’ rights nor the laws of the country.”

Through its Cyber Scout program, the government recruits volunteers to search for 'harmful' and illegal online content

The government, according to the Bangkok Post, had contacted Facebook to take down 10,000 pages that were deemed to have violated its laws last year. Last month, Two Thai netizens had their homes raided, their computers confiscated and their rights stripped in a recent cyber crackdown. They're lucky they were freed but they knew their lives were forever changed.

In a climate of pervasive fear and deep mistrust of the authorities, conviction that one has done nothing wrong is simply not enough. One of the accused revealed she was more worried the police would tamper with “evidence” and put her behind bars not for what she did, but for what she didn't do.

When she received her seized belongings back from the police, she found that the name of one partition in her external hard disk, which she used to store documents and articles about politics, had been changed.

‘I didn’t stay to watch them while they were making a copy [of the hard disk], as I was confident that I had not done anything risky or hidden anything. I just posted my personal comments as usual. But when I saw this, I suspected whether the police had tampered with my data,’ she said.

She told Prachatai that she had closely followed politics through the internet, but had never joined any rallies by any groups. She also insisted that she had largely read comments by others, and had never posted any offensive comments.

Not all net users were outraged by Thailand's new Twitter policy, however. Ohreohcorner wrote on web board

“Thailand seems to like censorship so much that it had to take a stance by embracing new Twitter censorship policy.”

Meanwhile Tleknight Kmutt tweeted “It's OK I can take this.” Domoku SAd wrote

“Personally all net users have the responsibility to ensure that they abide by the laws of the country. We [net users] need to recognize our boundaries.”

The continued onslaught of internet freedom in Thailand is very much tied to the overall tension with regards to the debate over the possible reform of Article 112 of the Penal Code, known widely as the “lese majeste clause” which prohibits defamation of the royal family. The Yingluck government has made clear it will not seek its amendment and has since stepped up its crack down on netizens, claiming its duty to enforce the law. Yet given the opaqueness of the law and the lack of transparency in computer crime related cases, the government is effectively breeding fear.

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) took the government's Twitter endorsement in stride by immediately finding ways to circumvent censorship tools. Likewise Thai Netizen Network responds to the growing net repression from the state by fighting back. The group issues regular updates to Thai net users on how to “unblock” the blocked sites.


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