Internet censorship in Thailand is carried out through judicial orders, extra-judicial blocking decisions by the executive branch, and preemptive action by ISPs and content hosts. Judicial orders are typically issued under the CCA of 2007. The law was passed by a military-appointed legislature less than a year after the 2006 coup. It groups broad contentregulation issues with more straightforward criminal activities like hacking, e-mail phishing, uploading personal content without consent, and posting obscene material. The law was opposed by a range of human rights groups on the grounds that it infringed on the right to privacy, the right to access information, and freedom of expression.27 For example, the provisions in Articles 14 and 15 allow the prosecution of any content providers or intermediaries—such as webmasters, administrators, and managers—who are accused of posting or allowing the dissemination of content that is considered harmful to national security or public order.28 The executive authorities, particularly the police, are left to Ibid.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, “Thailand’s Massive Internet Censorship,” Asia Sentinel, July 22, 2010, http://asiasentinel.com/index.phpoption=com_content&task=view&id=2601&Itemid=164.
Sarinee Achavanuntakul, “Danger! Computer Crimes Act,” Fringer Blog, July 18, 2007, http://www.fringer.org/p=259 (in Thai).
Sections 14(1), 14(3), and 14(5) and Article 15 of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act pertain to crimes that “involve import to a computer system of forged computer data, either in whole or in part, or false computer data, in a manner that is likely to cause damage to a third party or the public; that involve import to a computer system of any computer data related to an offense against THAILAND FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net decide what amounts to a violation under these vaguely defined terms, and criminal courts make the final judgments. In practice, several individuals have indeed been charged under section 15 of the CCA for content posted by other users on websites or bulletin boards they hosted.Without a court order, an ISP is not necessarily required by law to comply with MICT blocking requests. However, under the April 2010 emergency declaration, which remained in effect in Bangkok and surrounding areas until December 22, 2010, top security officials held the power to shut down any website unilaterally. Thousands of websites were reportedly blocked under this extra-judicial mechanism.30 The emergency blocking orders often encompassed a range of internet-protocol (IP) addresses, affecting a large number of lawful websites that happened to fall into the banned range.Because those providing hosting services are held responsible for comments posted by third parties, they have an interest in censoring their own sites. Self-censorship is encouraged through the work of volunteers who monitor suspicious websites and report their findings to the MICT. In October 2009 the ministry opened a call center to receive reports of dangerous websites, and in July 2010 it introduced a controversial “cyber scout” project that aims to train students as volunteer web monitors.32 The Ministry of Justice is also conducting a cyber-scout training project designed to protect the monarchy.A case that illustrates both direct government censorship and the pressure on ISPs to preemptively censor revolves around political science scholar Professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn, who faced lese majeste charges in early 2009 for his book A Coup for the Rich. Professor Ungpakorn fled abroad after receiving death threats for joining the red-shirted UDD. Soon after he arrived in Britain, he used his own blog space to release the incendiary Red Siam Manifesto, in which he criticized the monarchy and demanded regime change.34 In February 2009, the material was suddenly blocked by the authorities without a court order but with cooperation from ISPs. On February 13 of the same year, an MICT official sent an e-mail the kingdom’s security under the criminal code; that involve the dissemination or forwarding of computer data already known to be computer data [which are illegal].” The act states that “any service provider intentionally supporting or consenting to an offense…within a computer system under their control shall be subject to the same penalty as that imposed upon a person committing an offense.” For an unofficial translation of the Act in English, see http://www.prachatai.com/english/node/117.
iLaw Project Report pg. 13.
CJ Hinke, “Thailand Now Blocking 277,610 Websites,” Global Voices Advocacy, November 8, 2010, http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2010/11/08/thailand-now-blocking-256110-websites/; iLaw Project Report pg. 17.
iLaw Project Report..
“Prime Minister Inaugurates ‘Cyber Scout’ Project; Support the MICT in building the Cyber Scout Program to Protect the Online World,” Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT), http://www.mict.go.th/ewt_news.phpnid=3430&filename=index (in Thai), accessed December 13, 2010; Mong Palatino, “Cyber Scout: Thailand’s Internet Police,” Global Voices, December 24, 2010, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2010/12/24/cyber-scout-thailand%E2%80%99s-internet-police/.
“Invitation to Participate in Scout Training Program], Ministry of Justice,” http://www.justicecyberscout.org/General/Content.aspx (in Thai), accessed December 10, 2010.
Giles Ji Ungpakorn’s blog is located at http://wdpress.blog.co.uk/. Access is denied in Thailand.
THAILAND FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net message to ISP executives, urging them to filter the manifesto in the name of national security.Censorship decisions, particularly those taken by the MICT, lack transparency.36 In 2007, FACT and the Campaign for Popular Media Reform petitioned the Official Information Commission to order the release of any blocking lists, but the request was denied on the grounds that it could harm the website owners’ reputations.A number of prosecutions have been initiated against internet users, and Thai authorities have begun monitoring social-networking sites in recent years, generating a chilling effect among some members of the online community. Many internet users engage in self-censorship when communicating online, even when the exchange is among friends within a closed network. Some users adjusted their use of e-mail and instant chat programs as they came to understand the ramifications of the new CCA law after its passage in 2007.
Political propagandizing and proactive state manipulation of online discussions happen occasionally but have not had a significant impact on online discourse. The military has special units tasked with creating media content to counter criticism of the monarchy, such as the Network of the Navy Quartermaster to Promote and Protect the Monarchy on the Internet.38 Independent online news outlets sometimes face pressure from the government or private sponsors to restrict content critical of the authorities. For example, independent news site Prachatai.com lost a local donor for ideological reasons and consequently had difficulty sustaining itself financially.
As the number of users increases, online communication tools and resources are growing in importance for Thai citizens. Of 12,992 users included in a 2009 NECTEC survey, some 88.5 percent obtained their news from online media as well as traditional media. The most common news-related activity online was reading and participating in discussion forums or message boards, followed by reading the online versions of newspapers.39 While many blogs and discussion sites are blocked, users can access their content with readily available circumvention software, and content producers often republish information on alternate sites. These techniques can significantly undermine the MICT’s censorship efforts. After Prachatai’s website was blocked, for example, the number of visitors reportedly rose threefold.40 Even a senior officer from MICT admitted at an international conference in 2010 that the blocking was not effective. “MICT Asks ISPs to Block ‘Red Siam,’” Prachatai, February 14, 2009, http://www.prachatai.com/english/news.phpid=995.
For example, in seeking to collect details of blocked websites, iLaw researchers found government agency response inconsistent with several entities being unable or unwilling to provide the requested data on the number and content of censored sites.
The Official Information Commission’s response to the request for lists of blocked websites is available at http://www.media4democracy.com/th/images/stories/book/fact.pdf (in Thai), accessed December 13, 2010.
iLaw Project Report.
NECTEC, Internet User Profile of Thailand 2009.
Private conversation with Prachatai director on December 17, 2010.
Darren Pauli, “Our Blacklist Has Failed Us: Thai Minister,” ZDNet, November 17, 2010, http://www.zdnet.com.au/ourblacklist-has-failed-us-thai-minister-339307333.htmomnRef=http://m.blognone.com/news/20069.
THAILAND FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net Social media have become highly popular in Thailand since 2009, and the number of Facebook and Twitter users rose quickly amid the political turmoil in 2010. These platforms and the internet in general offer Thais an important alternative space to seek information and engage in political expression more freely and anonymously.42 The red-shirt movement has used Facebook and other tools to exchange political opinions and information, and to mobilize supporters for offline actions like flash mobs and protests. Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has used Twitter to send messages from exile to his supporters within Thailand. Backers of the government were also active on Facebook in 2010, with half a million signing an online petition to support the present prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.While internet freedom is under serious pressure, online activists are organizing to push back. For example, the Political Prisoners in Thailand blog provides information on lese majeste prosecutions,44 and the Thai Netizen Network (TNN) was founded in early 2009 to uphold users’ right to access, free expression, and privacy.45 TNN makes regular public statements urging the government to respect and protect internet freedom and the rights of users.VIOLATIONS OF USER RIGHTS The 2007 constitution, which replaced an interim charter imposed by the military government after the 2006 coup, guarantees freedom of expression. Also in 2007, the legislature passed a new Printing Act that had fewer restrictions and lighter penalties than its predecessor, the 1941 Printing and Publishing Act. However, other laws have been used to curtail free expression. These include the Internal Security Act of 2007, as well as harsh defamation and lese majeste provisions in the penal code; the latter assign penalties of up to 15 years in prison for criticism of the king, the royal family, or Buddhism.47 In general, these provisions have been applied to online expression in much the same way as they are used against traditional media. The CCA has also been invoked to arrest internet users. This trend accelerated in 2009, when the red-shirt movement—which is tied to former prime Agence France-Presse, “Thai Political Crisis Fuels Social Media Boom,” Bangkok Post, October 25, 2010, http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/asia/203098/thai-political-crisis-fuels-social-media-boom.
See the Facebook page “Confident that more than a million Thais say no to House dissolution” at http://www.facebook.com/pages/manci-wa-khn-thiy-kein-1-lan-tx-tan-kar-yub-spha/114169001938424 (in Thai), accessed December 15, 2010.
The blog is located at http://thaipoliticalprisoners.wordpress.com.
The Thai Netizen Network website is located at http://www.thainetizen.org.
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), “Thai Government Urged to Protect Netizens’ Rights,” news release, December 13, 2010, http://www.seapabkk.org/component/content/article/2-alerts/100382-seapa-alert-thai-government-urged-to-respectnetizens-rights.html Karin Deutsch Karlekar, ed., “Thailand,” in Freedom of the Press 2010 (New York: Freedom House, 2010), http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfmpage=251&year=2010.
THAILAND FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net minister Thaksin Shinawatra—mobilized in opposition to the current coalition government, led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
The number of legal cases initiated against internet users since the CCA came into effect in July 2007 has increased dramatically, reaching 185 as of July 2010. Of these, involved lese majeste charges (29 of them filed by the MICT or other government agency), 54 involved defamation, and six involved actions considered by the authorities to threaten national security. The remainder were related to fraud, pornography, and other commonly recognized computer crimes.48 Most of the defendants have been ordinary Thais who were not affiliated with the red-shirts movement. At the end of 2010, the majority of the lese majeste cases were still at the initial investigation stage; however, in four cases, the courts had returned a guilty verdict. One of the first and most prominent cases centered on engineer Suwicha Thakhor, who was accused of posting clips on YouTube that attacked the royal family. He was arrested in January 2009 under penal code Article 122 and the CCA in his hometown in northeastern Nakhon Phanom province. The police also raided his other home in Bangkok, which he was accused of using as a base for spreading material that defamed the monarchy. Suwicha pleaded guilty and received a 10-year prison sentence in April 2009, but was pardoned after nearly 18 months in detention and released in June 2010.In late January 2009, a 25-year-old female user known as “Buffalo Boy” was arrested and then released on bail for the amount of two million baht (US$65,000). She was accused of posting controversial content related to the royal family on Prachatai’s discussion board in October 2008. In March 2009, police raided Prachatai’s offices and arrested Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the outlet’s director and discussion-board moderator. She was accused of supporting the offending content by allowing it to remain posted for 20 days. Chiranuch was arrested once again in September 2010, this time at the airport upon returning from a conference on internet freedom. She was detained on a second charge of “defaming the royal family, and violating articles 14 and 15 of the CCA, and article 112 of the criminal code.” She was released after posting a 200,000 baht (US$6500) bail,50 and at the end of 2010 was awaiting the conclusion of her trial.