Updated: Thailand: The new Burma

14 03 2012

At The Irrawaddy, it is reported that:

Burma could soon be removed from the ‘enemies of the internet’ list if current reforms on media censorship continue, claims a leading press freedom watchdog.

Yes, that is a bit of a beat up, but it should worry everyone who follows Thailand’s politics, and it should especially worry the Yingluck Shinawatra government. It should also concern royalists – but it won’t – because it is their desire to protect the country’s largest corporate conglomerate. Of course, we mean the wealthy and politicized monarchy.

It is a beat up because Burma remains one of the world’s 12th worst government for censored internet access as ranked by Reporters Without Borders. RSF is reported:

Burma could soon leave the enemies of the internet list if the country takes the necessary measures…. It has clearly embarked on a promising period of reforms, which has included the release of journalists and bloggers and the restoration of access to blocked websites.

But, even though Thailand’s ranking has improved – but remains a lowly 137th, up from 153rd in 2010 under Abhisit Vejjajiva’s repressive regime – RSF “believes that Burma could soon overtake Thailand which was heavily criticized for jailing bloggers who transgress its strict lèse-majesté laws.”

In Burma, the situation is improving as “the military have permitted the release of journalists and bloggers and the unblocking of news websites,” whereas Thailand keeps them locked up.

PPT takes issue with the RSF report for Thailand in 2011-12. Like others, RSF claims that:

online freedom of expression began to deteriorate from the moment the new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra assumed power in July 2011. Abusive recourse to the politically exploited lèse-majesté law has led to an increase in litigations and strict censorship.

Only part of this is true. While there has reportedly been an increase in URL blocking (including PPT), we do not see evidence of any increase in litigation on lese majeste under the new government, not yet, anyway.We do note one piece of evidence from RSF:

Based on photocopies of official documents shared by Mahidol University’s Kwanravee Wangudom Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies between January and October 2011, 122 lèse-majesté cases (which may or may not have been prosecuted) were reviewed by courts of first instance, eight reviewed by appeal courts, and three by the Supreme Court.

It is important to note the dates cited. Almost all of that period was under the previous Abhisit administration, so the evidence remains unclear.

There has been a lot of lese majeste talk and this has been designed to embed self-censorship, but all of the litigation we have seen to date appears to have been set in place by the Abhisit regime. In addition, much of the red shirt media that was blocked under that regime is now more readily available.

PPT is critical of the Yingluck administration on lese majeste and political repression – indeed, we recently posted on continuing repression. However commentators like RSF need to be accurate and careful in their assessments.

Update: Channelnewsasia.com reports the following:

Thai authorities have blocked thousands of web pages deemed insulting to the monarchy in the past three months, police said on Wednesday, amid growing debate about the kingdom’s lese majeste law.

More than 5,000 pages with content deemed to be critical of the royal family were taken down between December and March, Thailand’s national police spokesman Piya Utayo told reporters.

We found that the number of inappropriate or insulting posts was less and less,” he said, without explaining the cause of the reduction.

PPT is becoming confused on all the zeros floating about on this. In the report in the original post, RSF says the Yingluck government has blocked “60,000 Web pages in less than three months, as opposed to 70,000 in the preceding three years.” If there really has been a reduction of tens of thousands to 5,000, something is happening. Fear? Republicans becoming bored or changing tack? Maybe readers know?

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