Updated: FACT on continuing censorship

3 11 2012

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand hasn’t posted since July, but is back with a long post on continuing internet censorship in Thailand. FACT claims that the Royal Thai Government now blocks more than 1,000,000 URLs.

In January 2004, during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, it was announced that 1,247 URLs were blocked. Following the 2006 military coup, “the military’s fifth official order on its first day in power was to block the Internet. Under the coup regime, tens of thousands of webpages were blocked.” In 2007, FACT says that Thailand became the first country to block YouTube and in the same year introduced the notoriously politicized Computer Crimes Act. Much of this censorship was related to anti-monarchy sites and postings.

FACT claims that, today, the “Thai government censorship was rising at a rate of 690 new pages blocked every single day.” It adds: “Thailand’s censorship has shown no signs of abating and almost none of the webpages blocked during the [Abhisit Vejjajiva regime’s] ‘emergency’ have been unblocked [under the Yingluck Shinawatra regime]. In 2012, more than 90,000 Facebook pages were blocked.”

Update: In a related comment, Reporters Without Borders has commented on the lese majeste acquittal of  Surapak Puchaisaeng. In doing so, RWB notes: “Thailand is ranked 137th of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders and is among countries under surveillance in the list of Internet enemies, updated by the organization in March last year.”

Freedom House on internet censorship

28 09 2012

Freedom House has released its Internet Freedom report for 2012. Thailand ranks as unfree, along with China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Burma, and a few others. The report is long and detailed.

The report notes that although “the Thai government has been blocking some internet content since 2003, restrictions have expanded in recent years in both scale and scope.” Most of this is related to the monarchy. Before 2007 it says that most censorship was “pornography, online gambling, or circumvention tools, although some politically oriented websites were also found to be inaccessible.”

Since 2007, censorship “has grown exponentially, particularly those with content perceived as critical of the monarchy.” Figures are provided.

After 7 April 2010, the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, backed by the military blocked a “large number of websites focused on the opposition red-shirt movement…. These included individual YouTube videos, Facebook groups, and Google groups.”

The report notes that “less clearly partisan online news outlets or human rights groups, such as Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT), the online newspaper Prachatai, the Political Prisoners in Thailand blog, and Asia Sentinel” were blocked.

The advent of the “democratically elected government” of Yingluck Shinawatra dashed “hopes that the new government would loosen internet censorship…”. Again, sites about the monarchy have been the target.

It states that some sites “blocked in 2010 were accessible, including FACT and the Political Prisoners in Thailand” have become available. For PPT this is only partly true as blocking is off and on. Media “reports citing government officials, thousands of webpages have been added to the blacklist under the new administration.” However, it is unclear if censorship has actually increased.

The centrality of the monarchy to censorship regime is explained:

Despite [a]… constraining environment, outside of comments perceived as critical of the monarchy, most other areas of discussion on political, social, and human rights issues are freely and passionately debated in Thailand.

The report notes that:

While many blogs and discussion sites are blocked, users can access them with readily available circumvention software, and content producers often republish information on alternate sites. These techniques have undermined the MICT’s censorship efforts.

That’s true, and this is why PPT has a “mirror” at PP of T. We are further mentioned in another section of the report:

As internet freedom has come under growing pressure, online activists have organized to push back. The Political Prisoners in Thailand blog provides information on lèse-majesté prosecutions. The Thai Netizen Network (TNN) was founded in early 2009 to uphold users’ right to access, free expression, and privacy via public statements and other advocacy initiatives.

This is a most useful report, and highly recommended to readers.

Revised: Discussing lese majeste II

11 06 2012

Last week PPT posted information regarding the seminar “Rhetoric and Dissent: Where to next for Thailand’s lèse majesté law?” To date, we have seen no media accounts of the event.

Thankfully, Freedom Against Censorship Thailand has a post on the event. The post includes links to videos of the discussions, and is well worth some attention. Just in case readers are wondering, PPT should add that we do not agree with everything in the videos. The claims of an anti-monarchy plot are, in our view, not supported by any factual sources.

One item caught our eye: “A Khao Sod reporter in the question period commented that he didn’t think anything he’d heard would be reported in his newspaper.” So readers can read and watch the unprintable for the supine, cringing media.

Recalling regicide

9 06 2012

Later today the king will, according to The Nation, “preside over the inauguration of a monument built in honour of his older brother, late King Rama VIII.” The event commemorates the gun shot death of King Ananda Mahidol on 9 June 1946.

It seems from the report that the event is sponsored by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration as Governor and minor prince Sukhumbhand Paribatra will preside and attend the whole day’s event. Sukhumbhand wouldn’t be minor if, in earlier days, his line had been chosen following the abdication of King Prajadhipok.

For the king, commemorating his brother’s still unexplained death, seems to have been a particularly important. The Nation tells readers only that Ananda “passed away.” Of course, everyone knows that the dead king was shot, so the failure to mention it is another of those “sensitivities” that may not be spoken of. If one does speak, it can land you in jail for a very long time.

More than that, the death remains unexplained but still resulted in the execution of three men who were undoubtedly innocent.This is yet another example of the bias of the judiciary when dealing with the monarchy.

Some details of the death are available here (a PDF), here, here and here.  In 1948, former Prime Minister Luang Thamrong Navasawat confided details to U.S. Ambassador Edwin Stanton (a PDF), and that cable remains well worth a read. Freedom Against Censorship Thailand has posted an audacious post that points to the “censorship surrounding the gunshot death of King Ananda Mahidol in 1946.”

Back to The Nation’s report, where it tells readers that a ‘permanent exhibition [about King Rama VIII’s life] will be set up in the hall under the statue,’ Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said yesterday.”

This is another of those royalist nonsenses. Yes, he was king for a decade (1935-46), but for almost all of that time he was a minor and away from Thailand, so the exhibition must be a kind of personal homage, although we expect the palace PR machine will try to conjure some achievements. We don’t expect to see any comments about regicide or the books that have seriously examined it (in fact, they are banned).

Almost as a footnote, for today’s big show, the phrai “living in the area have also been encouraged to tidy up their premises for the occasion.”

There’s been a lot of tidying up on this matter for six decades. Things like death and censorship have long been in place in distorting the historical record, but as people get older, they usually cogitate on things like merit and lack of it.

FACT on Chiranuch verdict

2 06 2012

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand makes some interesting points regarding the computer crimes conviction against Prachatai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn. PPT won’t repeat it here, save to identify this point:

Judge Kampol’s ‘lenient’ decision was neither compromise nor capitulation reflecting the reality of the Internet as a tool for freedom of expression. The fact that Chiranuch did not win an outright acquittal is a barely-veiled threat against the rest of us.

The threat is not veiled at all; it is clear. “Protect the monarchy” or risk legal sanction!

Browsing with freedom

29 03 2012

PPT wants to draw attention to a series of posts at Freedom Against Censorship Thailand. FACT has posted several items that show readers many ways in which they can browse free of state restrictions. Given the extensive blocking of URLs in Thailand, the information provided is invaluable.

Begin with the link above, and scroll down through several posts on related topics.

Updated: Costs of monarchy

17 03 2012

For as long as PPT has been around, we have been pointing out that the monarchy in Thailand, while fabulously wealthy, is largely funded in its activities by the state and, hence, the taxpayer.

As recently as a couple of days ago, PPT posted on a funeral for a little-known royal that is sucking up a few million dollars. In another recent post, we pointed to a Forbes article that revealed that the state and taxpayer fork out a huge amount each year to “maintain” the monarchy.

The report claimed that in 2011, taxpayers ladled over $84 million to the Bureau of the Royal Household alone, and that isn’t the bulk of state funds poured into the monarchy:

once security costs are factored in, the government spends around $194 million a year on the royal family and its courtiers. This is in addition to the CPB’s income (minus its costs). This implies that … the Thai crown [annually] burns through half a billion dollars.

Forbes compares this to other royal families and says it is huge. For example, the far more transparent British monarchy “gets nearly $50 million” from taxpayers “but remits most of its crown property income to the treasury.”

In other words, the smaller Thai monarchy in a poorer country, takes about seven times more from the public purse.

Now, thanks to Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (our third post from FACT this week!), an academic paper by David Streckfuss is available. In it, Streckfuss makes comparisons between the Thai monarchy and other monarchies on cost to the taxpayer and, separately, the “cost” to democracy. PPT has only had a quick look, but it looks fantastic.

On the hot question of the monarchy making an oath to protect the constitution, the academic says:

The first metric examines the position of the monarchy within the constitutional order in Europe. Including all but one, monarchs make a public oath to respect the constitution.

On cost, this table really says it all (and note that the figure for Thailand is lower than the Forbes guesstimate:

Germany is included as a comparison with heads of state who aren’t monarchs. Swaziland is small in terms of population and a “banana monarchy” if ever there was one, so it is a ridiculous outlier. After that, the Thai monarchy is more than twice as expensive in terms of tax burden than tiny Luxembourg.

Read the whole paper.

Update: The paper is now available as a PDF.