Cyber snooping everywhere

22 01 2015

Challenges to the monarchy are so dire that the military dictatorship has decided to seek it out in every nook and cranny in cyberspace.

As the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the military dictatorship and its puppet National Legislative Assembly “to scrap proposed legislation that would allow for mass surveillance of online activities and platforms,” the junta declares that the new law and another on the “digital economy” is meant to crack down even more on alleged lese majeste.

The so-called Cyber Security Bill was approved by The Dictator’s Cabinet and is pending approval by the puppet Assembly. The CPJ states that “[i]f passed into law, the bill would establish a government-run cyber security committee charged with detecting and countering online threats to national security, stability, the military, and economy…”.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, is quoted:

We will develop the software for goods and services. If there are private [online] contents, no one would mess up with those. But if [some people] commit crimes [under lese majeste], we have to investigate on the matter. The accusation that the government is not taking care of Article 112 [Article 112 of the Criminal Code nicknamed lese majeste] is because those lese majeste websites were produced from overseas. They can’t be removed because other countries don’t have the law like us. They don’t allow us [ to shut down lese majeste contents]. Then why don’t we make our country safer because our house is different from their houses. Thai people are not like westerners. We eat rice and they eat bread which is different. We are truly Thai….

Serious stuff, but Prayuth is such a nonsensical dunce that we can’t do much more than slander him. We are sure that he’s thinking of banning bread, for bread-eating Thais are presumably suspect. As everyone surely knows, bread eaters the world over are anti-monarchist. It is something about the way wheat is made into flour. These nasty crust crunchers are always seeking to bring royals down. The bakery down the soi from us better hope that the royalists don’t take to picketing bread merchants.

To be serious, for this is another Prayuth suppression in the name of protecting the most powerful, he talks of a China-like wall of cyber-blocking to protect the monarchy and damn everyone else to soaps, porn and gambling online.





Journalists detained and threatened

29 05 2014

Committee to Protect Journalists:

Military authorities in Thailand should immediately release a local journalist who was taken into military custody on Sunday after being summoned for questioning, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Military authorities have summoned and detained dozens of politicians, political activists, and outspoken academics following the military’s seizure of power from Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan’s caretaker administration on May 22, The Associated Press reported. Most of the detainees are accused of being associated with the ousted government, the report said. In the roundup over the weekend, at least 35 individuals, including at least one journalist, were summoned for questioning. Many have been detained, according to reports.

On Saturday, Pravit Rojanaphruk, columnist for the English-language daily The Nation, was summoned by the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council, Agence France-Presse reported. He and his lawyer were detained when they responded to the summons the next day, the reports said. Their whereabouts are unknown, according to local reports. No charges have been disclosed.

Pravit has written stories criticizing Thailand’s lèse majesté law for several years, reports said and has been critical of the recent coup. On Monday, Thailand’s military leader, Army Commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha, was endorsed by the royal family, which is seen as instrumental in legitimizing power, reports said. Lèse majesté laws, which shield Thailand’s royal family from criticism, carry prison penalties of up to 15 years.

“Journalists are vital to the flow of information, particularly during this time of political upheaval,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “It’s not the army’s job to decide what news organizations can publish. The detention of Pravit Rojanaphruk sends a chilling message, which must not stand. He should be released immediately.”

On Tuesday, Thai military authorities summoned two journalists for questioning, accusing them of asking Gen. Prayuth “inappropriate” questions in a news conference, according to reports. The journalists, who were only identified in news reports as working for Thairath and Bangkok Post, were not detained.

On May 22, military officers detained Wanchai Tantiwitthayapithak, deputy director of Thailand Public Broadcasting Service, after he aired news on YouTube despite military orders not to broadcast. Wanchai was later released, according to local reports.





Crispin on internet censorship

14 02 2013

Shawn Crispin writing for the Committee to Protect Journalists has an article on the increasing tendency for governments to want to control the internet in the Southeast Asian region. Of course, that includes comments on Thailand. His verdict is pretty much the same as the one PPT noted yesterday: almost all of Thailand’s censorship of the internet in Thailand is about the monarchy:

The authorities had already applied the law’s vague and arbitrary national security-related provisions to censor tens of thousands of anonymously posted Web pages, mostly for material deemed offensive to the monarchy.

Crispin also makes a point that scholar David Streckfuss made at the FCCT: the 2006 military-palace coup made lese majeste and the computer crimes law. In the latter, it was the junta’s administration under on-again, off-again privy councilor Surayud Chulanont that passed the flawed computer crimes law, and it is essentially that regime and the one led by Abhisit Vejjajiva, also hoisted to power by the military-palace complex, that made the law a political weapon of choice.

Part of his account is of the “legal calisthenics” that lese majeste and computer crime laws involve. For example, in the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn’s conviction was a:

… landmark verdict [that] effectively shifted the onus of Internet censorship in Thailand from government authorities to Internet intermediaries. Judges ruled that by failing to remove the comment quickly enough–it remained on Chiranuch’s Prachatai website for more than 20 days–she had “mutually consented” to the critical posting….

On the Abhisit regime, Crispin observes:

In 2009, in the name of shielding the monarchy from criticism, the previous Abhisit Vejjajiva-led government began a controversial Internet monitoring scheme that trained civilian volunteers, including university students, to serve as “cyberscouts” assigned to comb the Internet for anti-royal material. The number of lèse majesté complaints filed under Abhisit’s tenure nearly tripled year on year from 2009 to 2010, rising from 164 to 478 cases, according to Thai court records.

Crispin then moves to the Yingluck Shinawatra government, where the comments become less fact-based, claiming that the government’s Internet surveillance capabilities were expanded “in 2011 through a US$13 million investment in an undisclosed ‘interception’ system, according to local news reports.” It would be good to know if there has been more surveillance rather than simply reports. It is correct that in 2011″cabinet approved a directive that allowed the national police Department of Special Investigations to collect evidence, including through the intercept of Internet-based communications, without a court order in Computer Crime Act-related investigations.” It remains unclear how this power is being used.

On lese majeste, Crispin reports that:

Yingluck also established a 22-member committee dedicated specifically to suppressing lèse majesté content online. By mid-2012, MICT authorities claimed to have blocked 90,000 Facebook pages because of anti-monarchy content. That censorship followed on a late-2011 warning by MICT Minister Anudith Nakornthap that Internet users could be charged under the Computer Crime Act for “liking” online comments critical of the royal family.

While the latter is true, the claim to blocking a large number of Facebook pages has not been confirmed. One thing is clear: the number of allegations and charges of lese majeste has declined precipitously.

If any readers have better data on blocking by the current government, we’d be pleased to post it. Blocking of PPT is far less rigorous than it was under the Abhisit regime, but we continue to see some blocking by ISPs.





CPJ observes censorship on floods

26 10 2011

PPT is a big supporter of the Committee to Protect Journalists and we instinctively reject censorship. Hence we are reluctant to criticize the CPJ’s latest statement on Thailand, where it states:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government has tried to censor the citizen-journalist website Thaiflood, which has provided crucial news and information about massive flooding….

However, we feel that the statement of  “concern” about “reports” suggests less than appropriate fact-checking. Yes, there are such reports, but these are hotly disputed by others.

The CPJ’s report includes just three “reports” in its account, and each is to the Bangkok Post (another to the Wall Street Journal is irrelevant to the CPJ claims). That hardly amounts to a cascade of reports.

Of course, there are other reports such as this in The Nation, but they all have the same source. This is Thaiflood’s Poramate Minsiri, who is said in The Nation to head this “large civic network.” For a start, this is a “network” of unknown size put together specifically for this event. It is essentially a website and Twitter account. On that basis alone, its expertise on floods is to be questioned and there are several other groups at work on social media.

Thaiflood has also been portrayed as an anti-red shirt group. For example, in The Nation report Poramote is cited as saying that:

ThaiFlood was being discriminated against when it came to distributing supplies. He said that his group of volunteers did their best to hand out flood relief items to victims, they had to queue up for a long time, while the red-shirt groups were able to get their supplies much faster.

That sounds more like political scrapping, not censorship.

In addition, in that report, Poramate says “his group had pulled out because FROC was refusing to tell the truth about the situation.” That claim may or may not be true, but it was only a few days ago that the media was baying for blood because ministers were being “alarmist.” Since then, it has been the media and especially the social media that has been alarmist. It seems that if Poramate is claiming censorship, it is by a government that is trying to reclaim credibility after being beaten from pillar to post for its allegedly poor communications. This seems like a Catch-22.

Just a day ago in the Bangkok Post, Poramate was described as a “website operator,” and Thaiflood was said to have “no real office, no employees of note.” Poramate is said to have claimed “that Froc was trying to assimilate Thaiflood.” In fact, initially Thaiflood’s complaint  was “the government limited the group’s access to vital information.” That’s the claim of “not telling the truth.” At the same time, Thaiflood had “proposed a group representative to help the government map out its flood response operation, but Froc rejected the offer.”

That allegation of what might be considered sour grapes morphed into a claim of censorship when the government said it did want to control the release of flood information (for which it has been criticized for its failure to do so in previous days. Yep, full circle.

As a footnote, it is ironic that Poramate is claiming censorship when it was he who once advised the military-backed royalist government in 2007 on how to block YouTube postings considered “offensive” to the monarchy.

Back to the CPJ and Shawn Crispin, its senior Southeast Asia representative, a journalist who we argued was highly politicized in his recent reporting on the floods.

Crispin seems just a tad too politically biased to be making this claim. Maybe Sombat Boonngamanong had it right when he stated that his Mirror Foundation would “continue helping people regardless of their political affiliation, adding that the blame game should be set aside until the crisis has passed.”

But that doesn’t mean that the government shouldn’t be criticized for failures and for censorship. We’re just not convinced that the CPJ has done its due diligence on this one.

If readers think we’ve got this terribly wrong, let us know by email.





VOA on reviewing political charges

24 09 2011

The VOA has a few further details on the Yingluck Shinawatra government’s plans to review charges and prosecutions since the 2006 military coup. A couple of days ago PPT posted on the government’s response to the Truth for Reconciliation Commission’s second report, which had considerable emphasis on  lese majeste. Yingluck asserted that her government accepts the report and “will review political trials and royal insult cases connected to five years of unrest…”. That’s excellent.

Now it is reported that Thitima Chaisang, a government spokeswoman, says “the government agrees that the prosecutions have been politicized.” She said “the government accepts the proposal of TRCT as the first step to reconciliation [of] the conflict of our nation….  So, that’s why she needs to review all politicized criminal charges and lese majeste cases.” Then this:

However, the spokeswoman said the panel will not review changing any of the laws used to prosecute alleged offenses against the monarchy.

As weak as that is, it was not unexpected.

However, we are taken protect aback by reported claims from Shawn Crispin, the Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists. He says:

Without moves to re-establish press freedom across Thailand’s political divide, Yingluck’s inaction will lay bare the bogus claims to democracy her government’s affiliated street movement campaigned on while in the political opposition….

PPT considers the claim here to be quite ludicrous. For a start, Crispin appears to accept that the “street movement” claim to be democratic is already “bogus.” Second, Crispin assumes that a huge political movement is homogeneous and synonymous with the elected government. Neither is a fair assessment.

That said, it is already clear that press freedom has expanded since the change of government. The issues now are sustaining the gains made and deepening them. That is a political debate and struggle that has a long way to go. Crispin appears biased in his demands – a bias he has made clear several times in recent weeks.

 

 





Prachatai, Chiranuch and lese majeste get international attention

15 09 2011

The Financial Times has a story on Chiranuch Premchaiporn and her lese majeste-related trial. The story begins by noting that Chiranuch

looks an unlikely threat to national security. Yet the diminutive editor of Thailand’s popular Prachatai news website sat in a Bangkok court last week listening to a police colonel outline evidence that could land her in prison for up to 20 years….

The Financial Times cannot report the comments of the message as that would potentially fall foul of the law.

Chiranuch says: “I didn’t say anything, I didn’t write anything, I didn’t post anything but …  I am facing the penalty”.

John Ure, “the executive director of the Asia Internet Coalition, a pressure group set up by Google, Ebay, Skype and others” is reported on the wider implications of this case. If internet access providers “are found to be liable, it would be very detrimental to the whole digital economy of Thailand…. E-commerce, social networking and the like would all be completely disrupted.”

A senior western diplomat is cited:

There’s nothing wrong with the idea of a country respecting and honouring their monarch. What is troubling is to see a government use laws designed to protect an important institution like the monarchy in a way that exacerbates social divisions, or excessively punish those who have expressed their criticisms.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, is quoted:

The middle ground is being squeezed…. If you say ‘we want a monarchy but we want reform’ you provoke a hysterical reaction. It forces people into antimonarchism.

Hence, the discussion of a post-Bhumibol Thailand is impossible. David Streckfuss says:

It is impossible to have a rational political dialogue about the law and institution, it increases the probability that issues concerning the monarchy will be solved violently in the end….

The article sees little hope for change under the Yingluck Shinawatra government. That point is also made by a Reporters Without Borders alert released today.

It concludes with mention of Chiranuch and Prachatai winning the international Hellman/Hammett award for “commitment to free expression and courage in the face of prosecution.” The Bangkok Post takes this up, noting that Chiranuch is the first Thai to receive the award, administered by the Human Rights Watch since 1989.

At a ceremony for the awardees, Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia Representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists “called for the Yingluck Shinawatra administration to seriously review the Computer Crimes Act…”.

He should have added that the government needs to urgently address Article 112 on lese majeste.





CPJ on Somyos and lese majeste

29 07 2011

As PPT posted a few days ago, activist red shirt Somyos Pruksakasemsuk is now facing the courts on lese majeste charges after being held in custody and without bail for almost 3 months.

In a recent alert, the Committee to Protect Journalists has stated that it “is gravely concerned by the anti-royal charges” filed against Somyos. The CPJ says that if he is found guilty, “the journalist … will face a possible 30 years in prison.”

Such crazy sentences may gladden the hearts of royalist extremists like Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha. However, PPT is sure that such obsolete laws demonstrate the failure of the propaganda that supports a crumbling royalist ancien regime. The CPJ notes that lese majeste has “been abused for political purposes during the country’s protracted political conflict.” That’s true, but this conflict is very much a part of the process of royalist decay.

The CPJ states: “We call on the relevant Thai authorities to release Somyot Prueksakasemsuk and to drop the anti-royal charges filed against him…. The growing official use of lese majeste charges to stifle free expression has greatly undermined Thailand’s democratic credentials and done more harm than good to the royal institution the laws are designed to protect.”

Of course, PPT agrees with the CPJ.

We are less comfortable with an Associated Press report on this case and the CPJ’s account. What bothers us is this comment:

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej is an intensely idolized figure here, and few if any Thais would condone insulting him.

PPT can only imagine that the AP author doesn’t have much contact with average Thais. It should now be clear to anyone who gets about in Thailand and away from the nonsense of state officials, that this view is very much out-dated. Even without prompting, many Thais will now speak out, even when they know that there may be legal consequences. This is a part of the crumbling royalist regime.

AP needs to get up to speed with the changes taking place in Thailand.

 





CPJ condemns community radio raids

13 07 2011

The Committee to Protect Journalists has issued a statement that “condemns the raid and seizure of broadcasting equipment by police at six community radio stations in Thailand’s northeastern Nakhon Ratchasima province. The raids were staged two days after caretaker Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government lost to the opposition Peua Thai party in general elections held on July 3.”

Two of the six stations are royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) broadcasters and the others are red shirt-affiliated stations.

Remarkably, a PAD activist Supot Piriyagiatdisakul, seemingly blinded by rage, reckoned that the “raid was politically motivated and organized by officials wanting to please the new incoming Peua Thai-led government.” Yes, that is why they closed four red shirt stations. And, did Supot even stop to consider that there is no Puea Thai government, and won’t be for some time to come. It is the Democrat Party that remains in a caretaker role.

Sounding more rational, Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative is reported: “CPJ calls on Thailand’s incoming government to improve on the outgoing administration’s poor record of press freedom and to refrain from taking revenge against opposition media.” There’s been no hint of any “revenge” against any media, so Crispin is guessing.

 





More army lies

6 04 2011

How else can we headline it? The Bangkok Post reports that the same Army that denied use of cluster munitions has made another denial that beggars belief:

The military insists that its troops and snipers “did not use live bullets the morning Italian journalist Fabio Polenghi was shot dead when the operation to disperse anti-government protesters began on May 19 last year.” Fabio was shot and died late that morning. (For earlier PPT posts on this case see here, here, here, and here.)

A guardian photo

The report states that the bullet that killed him “was believed to have been fired from the direction where military officers were located.” The regime’s political police at the Department of Special Investigation “did not conclude in its initial findings that the Italian’s death was the result of the authorities’ operations since there was no strong evidence or witnesses to support the claims.”

DSI officer Pol Lt Col Veerawat Detboonpha told a hearing “that he had questioned a motorcyclist, Bradley Cox, and media crew members of the Thai Public Broadcasting Service. However, Pol Lt-Col Veerawat conceded that he had yet to get to the people who had helped the journalist, and particularly the person who reached Mr Polenghi first and took his camera away.” The DSI says its investigations into Fabio’s death and that of Hiro Muramoto are incomplete and that its officers need more time.

More startlingly, “Col Trithep Sripunwong, deputy commander of the 1st Regiment, told a TRC subcommittee investigating the incident no live ammunition had been used before noon that day. He said soldiers had moved along Ratchadamri Road before stopping at Sarasin junction. Blanks were fired to clear the roads and to flush out hiding protesters, he said.”

Here’s what the Committee to Protect Journalists said back in July 2010:

The death of Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi is at the center of the competing versions of events. Polenghi, 48, was killed by gunfire on the morning of May 19 while reporting on military operations to dislodge demonstrators along Rajadamri Road, a perimeter of the elaborate protest site the UDD had built in Bangkok’s top commercial district.

Bradley Cox, a Bangkok-based documentary filmmaker, said that earlier that morning troops had fired sporadically from behind a barricade into areas 200 meters away that were controlled by the UDD. Cox said both he and Polenghi had taken footage of a protester shot in the leg at around 10:45 a.m.

At 10:58 a.m., sensing a lull in the shooting, Cox said he moved away from a barricade controlled by the UDD and into the nearly empty road to investigate a commotion among protesters approximately 30 to 40 meters away. Cox said he believes Polenghi followed a few steps behind.

While running down the road, Cox felt a sudden, sharp pain in the side of his leg. It turned out that a bullet had grazed his knee, causing minor injury. When he turned to look back in the direction of the troops, he saw Polenghi sprawled on the ground about two or three meters behind him. Polenghi was wearing a blue helmet with the word “Press” written across the front and back, and a green armband indicating that he was a working journalist.

“My feeling at the time was that we were shot at the exact same time, perhaps even with the same bullet,” said Cox, adding that he didn’t hear the gunshot or shots that hit him or Polenghi. “I don’t know who shot me or Fabio, but if the military was trying to shoot red shirts, there was no one around us. … Soldiers were firing at anything or anybody.”

Earlier, Spiegal correspondent Thilo Thielke who worked with Fabio on the day he was killed, wrote of the day and the events, in PPT’s version:

He states that he had “always doubted that the government would actually allow things to go this far. There were many women and children in the district occupied by the protesters. Did the soldiers really want to risk a bloodbath?” He soon got his answer.

He arrived in the Red Zone that morning to find people “stoically awaiting the soldiers. They knew that the military would attack from the south, via Silom Road, and the braver ones among them had ventured to as far as a kilometer (0.6 miles) from the front line. They stood there, but they weren’t fighting. Some of them had slingshots, but nobody was firing.”

When the soldiers began to move forward, “shots whipped through the streets. Snipers fired from high-rises and the advancing troops shot through the smoke. And we, a group of journalists, ducked for cover, pressing ourselves against a wall to avoid getting hit.”

He observes that even before the final confrontation, the “streets had been transformed into a war zone.”

These may not be considered “definitive” accounts. At the same time, they deny the Army’s account. So too do other eye witness accounts, including that at Thailand’s Troubles and another post at the same site, claiming shooting in the morning. For a reminder of events on that day, see this video.





Updated: CPJ and RWB on Hiro Muramoto’s death

25 03 2011

The Department of Special Investigation has now officially concluded that “government security forces did not kill Reuters photographer Hiro Muramoto during political violence in Bangkok on April 10, 2010.”

However, the Committee to Protect Journalists, has expressed grave concern that the “investigation was not transparent, [and] has called for a full, independent investigation into the Japanese journalist’s death.” And so they should. The Abhisit Vejjajiva government and its political lackeys at the DSI have, with the assistance of the military, made this “investigation” a farce.

Muramoto (Reuters)

DSI chief Tharit Pengdit announced the “finding.” He said that only “new evidence” could change the verdict. Of course, earlier, following pressure from the Army’s top brass, an interim verdict holding state official responsible was overturned.

As the CPJ points out, the military “has repeatedly denied responsibility for any of the 91 deaths that occurred during the violence.” More concerning, the “government has declined to disclose evidence in the Muramoto case and others.” The CPJ says it has “repeatedly called on the Thai government to make public closed-circuit footage in its possession that shows the area where Muramoto was believed to have been working at the time of his death.” Nothing has been released.

The CPJ reflects: “We’ve expressed fears of a whitewash in the past, and this most recent development underlines our reasons for concern. While the government’s investigation into the shooting death of Hiro Muramoto technically remains open, we question the intention of the government to carry out a full, independent inquiry…”.

The whole process of investigating these tragic events has been a sham and a disgrace.

Update: Reporters Without Borders has weighed in with a comment on this “investigation” that they call “utterly unsatisfactory.” They add that: “The provisional conclusion one year after the event that the security forces did not fire the shot that killed Muramoto, who worked for Reuters, betrays a reluctance to shed light on the circumstances of his death and identify those responsible…”. Further, “In Reporters Without Borders’ view, the authorities have gradually and subtly suppressed the investigation although the foreign ministry had originally insisted that the commission created to investigate the violence would be independent.”