Reporters Without Borders is alarmed about the comments made by Man Pattanotai, the Thai minister of information and communication technology (ICT), in a radio interview on 14 May. He said prosecuting websites because of their content would cause a “big scandal” and that it was better to just “suppress the news” by closing them down or blocking access.
“By voicing a preference for radical censorship measures, the minister is in complete contradiction with the Computer Crime Act, which has been in force since the summer of 2007 and which requires the authorities to bring a complaint against a website before requesting its closure,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We condemn the reinforcement of online controls, which includes the creation of a toll-free number for people to call to denounce any website criticising the monarchy.”
Man Pattanotai was interviewed by the “Khao Den Praden Ron” news programme on radio 96.5 MHz, which on 14 May was about the unexplained blockage of three websites – the news sites Fah Diew Kan (http://www.sameskybooks.org) and Prachatai (http://www.prachatai.com) and the video-sharing site YouTube (http://www.youtube).
Prachatai was inaccessible for nearly 24 hours on 14 and 15 May. Access to YouTube is often blocked while videos referring to King Bhumibol Adulyadej are removed. Access to Fah Diew Kan is still blocked.
Asked why the sites were blocked, the minister replied: “They have content about the monarchy. Thai people cannot bear this, and no one can. Not just me or my officers. Even the former ICT minister, Sitthichai Pokaiyaudom, once he was informed about this, he asked me to ban them. And he would encourage folk who have the knowledge to hack the websites. Everyone is helping us. Even operators of Internet services who have the knowledge in hacking also help us.”
The minister confirmed that a toll-free number, 1111, has been created so that Internet users can call in and report website content which they regard as lèse majesté.
Thailand has more than 100 ISPs and not all of them follow the same rules as regard access blocking. As a result, some Internet users will find that certain sites are blocked and others will not. The minister said some foreign companies that hosted websites were cooperating with his government by agreeing to block content.
“In most cases, it is difficult since the webhosting service providers are located outside the country,” the minister said. “They are in California, Texas, New Jersey, we know where they are all located. We have received cooperation from Google California and YouTube.”
Thailand’s lèse majesté legislation is among the severest in the world. “Defamatory, insulting or intimidating” comments about the king and queen, their relatives or the regent are punishable by three to fifteen years in prison.
Asked about bringing legal action against websites over content constituting lèse majesté, the minister replied: “Doing so will become a big scandal. We’d better suppress the news. Someone higher than me is of this opinion (…) I am not sure which proxy servers they are using, probably from India, or Malaysia. We have to keep tracking them down and blocking them.”
The Computer Crime Act that took effect on 18 July 2007 authorises the police to seize the computer data of people suspected of disseminating insulting or pornographic content online. The individual records of Internet users must be kept by ISPs for 90 days and can be examined by the authorities without referring to a judge. The police can also confiscate any computer if they suspect it has been used for illegal purposes.