David Longstreath/AP
Thailand King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Thailand Blocks 2,300 Web Sites, Raising Concerns About Free Speech

January 07, 2009 09:02 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The blockings are the latest freedom of speech issue from Southeast Asia, which last week saw the state firings of two newspaper editors in Vietnam.

Thai Authorities Block Web Sites Insulting to King

Thai authorities say that the 2,300 Web sites are insulting to King Bhumibol Adulyadej and are seeking a court order to shut down 400 other sites. They also plan to create a $1.3 million, 24-hour facility to monitor the Internet for violations, according to Information and Communications Technology Minister Ranongrak Suwanchawee.

Critics say that the actions violate international standards of free speech. "The government has to understand the nature of the Internet and the concept of freedom of speech," said Paiboon Amonpinyokeat, the founder of P&P Law Firm, who helped write Thailand's cyber-crime law, to Bloomberg.

In nearby Vietnam, the state firing of two newspaper editors last week was the latest sign that Communist authorities there are tightening control over the media, with a new policy to crack down on both state-run media and the blogosphere.

Nguyen Cong Khe, editor in chief of the newspaper Thanh Nien and Le Hoang, who edited the publication Tuoi Tre, were fired just months after two of their reporters had gone on trial over their coverage of a major government corruption case, and both papers had been leaders in investigating graft.

Bloggers in particular, who have become more and more daring in criticizing the authorities and writing about controversial topics that are not covered by the state-run media, are the target of one new law, which bans them from discussing “politically sensitive subjects” and requires that they reveal all of their sources. Those who violate the rules face up to $12,000 in fines or jail time. International watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders has named Vietnam one of 13 countries that are “enemies of the Internet” and, according to PBS, Vietnam had nine cyber-dissidents in detention in December.

One student blogger, who goes by the Internet alias “Mr. Cold,” holds strong antigovernment views. “They (state media) decide what we will hear, what we will read and what we will see,” he said. “They are slaves of the communists.”

Background: Press freedom in Southeast Asia

According to the World Association of Newspapers, the region saw numerous press freedom violations in the last half of 2008.

In nearby Burma, where media and access to the Internet are severely restricted, the military government recently released a list of rules that editors must follow or risk imprisonment or suspension of publishing rights. Since November, nearly 100 people have been put on trial for media-related violations, including blogger and human rights activist Maung Thura, who was given 45 years in jail for videotaping Cyclone Nargis’ aftermath.

Cambodia has seen several attacks on journalists reporting on government corruption. Most notably, journalist Khim Sambo was shot to death in July after writing about corruption in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. Some news outlets speculated that national police chief Hok Lundy was involved in the murder, and accused police of a cover-up.

In Thailand, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance released a statement in August condemning a mob attack on a state-run TV station in Bangkok. Thailand’s National Broadcasting Television station was attacked on Aug. 28 by armed men who claimed to be part of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, and who accused the station of being a government mouthpiece.

According to the World Association of Newspapers, Asia as a whole has seen a rise in violence against journalists last year, and government restrictions continue to hamper press freedom in the region, particularly in China, which restricted foreign reporting and blocked Web sites related to Tibet during the Beijing Olympics.

Related Topic: Annual journalism report shows fewer deaths, fewer freedoms

In 2008, Reporters Without Borders continued to raise concerns about threats to freedom of the press worldwide, despite a decrease in the number of journalists who died on the job last year. It attributed the drop to fewer journalists’ deaths in Iraq and said the number also indicated a rise in journalists leaving the profession. Its annual report also raised concerns about increasing censorship and the compromising of journalists’ rights.

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