Thailand lese majeste
David Longstreath/AP
Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Arrest of Thai Web Journalist Marks Latest Clampdown on Press Freedoms

March 09, 2009 12:43 PM
by Anne Szustek
The founder of an independent Thai news Web site has been accused of allowing the site to host comments insulting to the king, a violation of Thai law.

Thai Authorities Continue Web Site Crackdown

On Friday, police officers entered Thai news site Prachatai’s Bangkok office and arrested Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the site’s founder.

Chiranuch was accused of violating of Thailand’s 2007 Computer Crimes Act, because she did not immediately delete some readers’ posted comments that authorities considered insulting to the monarchy. She was released on bail. If found guilty, she faces several years in prison.

Thailand has strict lèse-majesté laws banning any press criticism of the royal family. Many free speech activists, and King Bhumibol Adulyadej himself, have called the laws “outdated” and not in line with a democracy. But nationalists insist on maintaining the laws.
During its five years, Prachatai has developed a reputation for incisive, independent reporting, “particularly through its hard-hitting reports on the conflict between government forces and Muslim rebels in the country’s three southernmost provinces,” writes the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Web site was nearly shut down last year over similar concerns over comments about the monarchy that were posted in a public forum.

“Thousands of websites have been blocked,” the BBC’s Thailand correspondent Jonathan Head reports, “and a number of people charged and arrested, including a well-known academic, who fled to Britain before he could be detained.”

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Jonathan Head is also among the government’s targets.

Background: Thailand and lèse-majesté laws

Thai authorities said in early January that the 2,300 Web sites are insulting to King Bhumibol Adulyadej and were 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.

Later that month, Australian author Harry Nicolaides pleaded guilty to opposing Thailand’s royal family in his novel “Verisimilitude,” which only sold “a handful of copies,” his family told Agence France-Presse. Nicolaides was advised to plead guilty to receive a lesser sentence, otherwise, he could have faced 15 years behind bars.

Bangkok-based social activist Sulak Sivaraksa told Al-Jazeera, “The lèse majesté laws have mostly been used by politicians to get rid of or to silence the opposition” but at the same time, Thais privately critical of the laws often lack “the courage to speak up openly about changing it,” he said.

Related Topic: Other threats to press freedom in Asia

The Vietnamese government has made a concerted effort to maintain control over the state media and the blogosphere. Nguyen Cong Khe, editor-in-chief of newspaper Thanh Nien and Le Hoang, who edited Tuoi Tre, were fired in January, just months after two of their reporters had gone on trial over their coverage of a major government corruption case. Two other publications, Legality and Saigon Business People, lost their editors-in-chief in December.

Last month, Chinese state media announced China Press and Publishing Journal, the agency that oversees all state-owned media, will create “a database of media professionals with a bad record.” In recent months, China has also blocked foreign and domestic Web sites, such as those of The New York Times and Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, and allegedly jailed at least 26 journalists on ambiguous charges such as “revealing state secrets” and “inciting subversion.”

Meanwhile, the South Korean government has imprisoned financial blogger Park Dae-Sung, a 31-year-old Korean man who has never worked in the finance sector, accusing him of being responsible for a $2 billion foreign currency loss.

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