RWB on press freedom

8 02 2013

Web

Reporters Without Borders has released their latest ranking of media freedom around the world. Thailand makes a very, very small improvement after a considerable leap last year, but remains in the lower ranks on this particular table, at 135 of 179 countries.Ranking

As far as PPT can tell from the press release and the full report (downloads a PDF), Thailand is not mentioned except in the rankings table. However, the Bangkok Post has some commentary. It says:

“The press is much freer in Thailand than in neighbouring countries,” the report said, but then attacked the government for its treatment of internet media.

“Online freedom of expression began to deteriorate from the moment the new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra assumed power in July 2011,” said the report by Reporters Without Borders.

It cited in particular prosecution under the lese majeste law and commented, “Apparently the government has forgotten its promises to amend Article 112 of the Thailand Penal Code.”

Apparently, the Bangkok Post confuses the new report with the one from last year. When that report came out last year, PPT took issue with the RSF report. 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.

We noted that only part of that was true. While there has reportedly been an increase in URL blocking (including PPT), we did not see evidence of any increase in litigation on lese majeste under the Yingluck government. That remains largely true. The claims also took attention away from the upgrades Thailand received in the ranking that year following the end of the repressive Abhisit Vejjajiva regime in mid-2011.

As RWB said in that 2012 report, “Other than for monarchy-related issues, the media are relatively free in Thailand.” I Can't SpeakIt is the lese majeste and related computer crimes legislation that undermines the media in Thailand (and the judiciary and the monarchy itself). The recent conviction of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk is just one more example of the draconian lese majeste law being used to demonstrate that journalists, and anyone else who thinks they should have a voice, must self-censor on the monarchy.





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?





Red shirt journalist gunned down

13 01 2012

Reporters Without Borders writes that it

is shocked to learn that Wisut “Ae Inside” Tangwittayaporn, a freelance journalist and member of the “Red Shirts” political movement, was gunned down by two men on a motorcycle today in the southwestern resort island of Phuket.

Wisut

Reporters Without Borders demands that the authorities “carry out a thorough investigation into this murder, without ruling out the possibility that it was linked to his work as a journalist.”

Wisut was murdered while driving with his wife in Phuket. Police say:

the grouping of the shots suggested that the murder was carried out by professional killers and that his coverage of land disputes or other stories may have been the motive. The newspaper also reported the Wisut was the leader of a group opposed to the private use of a Phuket beach and had many enemies.





RWB on Somyos

3 11 2011

Reporters Without Borders comments on the continued detention of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk:

Reporters Without Borders condemns yesterday’s refusal by a Bangkok court to free Somyos Prueksakasemsuk on bail although he has been held for six months on a lèse-majesté charge in connection with his former position as editor of Voice of Thaksin, a magazine closed in 2010.

“The new government continues to violate the principles it proclaimed,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We are sceptical about its intention to carry out the prime minister’s pledge not to abuse the lèse-majesté laws. We call on the judicial system to free Somyos and drop the charges against him.”

A member of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (which is better known as the “Red Shirts”), Somyos arrested on 30 April for refusing to identify the person who wrote two articles for Voice of Thaksin under the pen-name of Jit Polachan that allegedly defamed the king.

He was formally charged on 26 July on two lèse-majesté counts for which he could get a combined sentence of up to 30 years in prison. His trial is due to take place at the end of the month but it might be postponed because of the current widespread heavy flooding.





RWB on Thailand (and other tourist sites)

28 10 2011

Reporters Without Borders has a new campaign underway, headed “Censorship Paradise.” It is headlined: “Don‘t turn a blind eye to censorship. Get the real low-down on your holiday destination.” It is also scrolling through the main RWB website.

The listing on Thailand comes with this poster:

The story begins:

Where law misuse is king

When Yingluck Shinawatra, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s younger sister, won the July 2011 general elections, Thais hoped this would end a series of political crises and open the way to more democracy. Unfortunately the new government has not ended the arbitrary use of lèse-majesté charges and has adopted many repressive measures.





RWB on DSI and its fantasy investigation

15 04 2011

Reporters Without Borders has issued a statement that

deplores Department of Special Investigation director-general Tharit Pengdit’s suggestion that the investigation into Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto’s death could be “delegated” to his employer, the Reuters news agency.

This twist in the political police agency’s “strategy” that shifts blame from the state and its soldiers to anybody else is deplorable. Tharit makes a statement about Reuters being able to get better tip-offs than the DSI. Indeed, there may be some truth in this as many see the DSI as hopelessly politically compromised, not least by Tharit’s former position in the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situations that oversaw the military’s murderous crackdown on protesters in April and May 2010.

RWB states:

The DSI’s proposal shows that the Thai government is refusing to identify those who were responsible for Muramoto’s death…. A government that respects the rule of law has an obligation to establish the truth and to ensure that justice is done.

That’s the point really. This government has repeatedly shown that it does not respect the rule of law. In fact, it uses blatantly political laws to repress political opponents and to entrench its power.

The statement adds:

Reporters Without Borders recognizes the importance of cooperation between Reuters and the authorities in charge of the investigation but cannot accept any attempt by the DSI to offload its responsibility.





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.”





Surveillance of the surveillance state

19 03 2011

Reporters Without Borders has listed Thailand as one of the countries “under surveillance” in its updated “Enemies of the Internet” report released on 12 March. The report on Thailand can be found here.

Most of what is in the report will be known to regular readers at PPT, including the political use of lese majeste and laws on computer crimes, states of emergency and internal security. The comment that “Surveillance is becoming the norm” is worth considering. RWB notes that:

Under normal circumstances, the Internet is controlled and monitored by the Thai Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, which blocks those sites which it deems offensive, mainly those charged with violating the lèse majesté law. However, since the authorities view this crime as an offence against national security, the army and police force are also implicated.

Informing is also encouraged.

RWB adds that the repressive climate created by censorship is intentional:

… multiple prosecutions are also intended to intimidate other Internet users likely to criticise the King and to force them to practice self-censorship. Other netizens have been briefly arrested or interrogated, but their exact number is difficult to determine, because many of those charged are avoiding any publicity for fear of reprisals and the authorities are obliged to open an inquiry whenever a lèse majesté complaint is filed.

PPT identifies this as a climate of fear, meant to intimidate and demanding of self-censorship.

 





Thailand dives lower on press freedom index

21 10 2010

It should be no surprise to anyone to read in The Nation that “Thailand has slipped 23 places to the ranking of 153rd on the press freedom index…”. The 2010 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) ranked Thailand between Azerbaijan at 152 and Belarus at 154. RWB states: “Political violence has produced some very troubling tumbles in the rankings. Thailand (153rd) – where two journalists were killed and some fifteen wounded while covering the army crackdown on the “red shirts” movement in Bangkok – lost 23 places…”. Read more from RWB on Thailand here.

Despite claims to the contrary from Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, there can be no sane denial of the facts. The control of the media in Thailand and the regime of censorship in place is reminiscent of that under military regimes.

Readers may recall Kasit’s laughable comment at the Asia Society recently: Thailand is open and freedom of the press “is second to none in the world!” He also pleaded for no more rankings of Thailand, perhaps knowing how badly the country is going to look on politics and freedom indicators.

Or perhaps Abhisit’s remarkable comments at the Council for Foreign Relations, as PPT reported them: Thailand, he said, has plenty of space for opposition opinion. Indeed, “much, much more space than we’ve seen for quite some time…”. He quickly added that this doesn’t apply to red shirt media, which he says is political propaganda for the red shirts…. Of course, Abhisit uses the “they incite violence” line, while ignoring yellow-shirt media…. He says nothing of the silencing and blocking of media that does not incite violence or hatred, such as Prachatai. Abhisit answers another question by saying that when there is censorship of all the red shirt media, “the situation is a lot calmer.” And that is the point. Abhisit and his supporters and backers want to silence the opposition.

If Abhisit and Kasit really do believe that Thailand’s media freedom “is second to none in the world!” then the country is in serious trouble , being run by people who do not understand freedom and democracy.





Further updated: Chiranuch on her arrest

1 10 2010

Pravit Rojanaphruk at The Nation has a short interview with bailed Prachatai editor Chiranuch Premchaiporn. PPT doesn’t comment in detail but we point to an interesting contrast in political behavior and attitudes.

When asked about the lese majeste law, Chiranuch says this: “Many parties, including the government, admit that it is problematic but they [the government] have failed to prevent the abuse [of the law]. Anyone who wants to press charges can just do it.” We knew that, of course, but remember that she is facing up to 50 years in jail on “problematic” lese majeste and computer crimes charges!

Chiranuch is then asked about censorship and freedom of expression in Thailand. Her response is: “I think there’s a problem with it. There’s a legal obstacle, a climate that hinders it and the new [online] media is a new culture that is being forced to become silent. The society is not very pleased about an open-exchange environment. They feel some control is needed.” Yes, indeed, but this is again a remarkably moderate response to the long period of attacks Prachatai and Chiranuch have endured.

And what does she say about “blame” and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva? She states: “I try not to be angry…. If I’m upset at anything, it’s the murky corners in Thai society where there is a lack of tolerance toward differing views and often resorts to any convenient means to shut people up. [PM] Abhisit [Vejjajiva] is perhaps in an uneasy situation, which is not particularly fun.”

Again, unmistakeably moderate, stoic and good-natured. How did Abhisit (and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya) react when asked about censorship and freedom of expression? Both stated unequivocally that Thailand has freedom of expression and that the only media that are censored and close are those that incite violence and hatred. Leaving aside the distortion of the truth, neither accusation could be made of Prachatai by any sane and reasonable person.

More cynical was Kasit, who was specifically asked about Chiranuch, and he went to a ramble about violence and hatred.

Both men could learn a lot about political sophistication and graciousness from Chiranuch. (Of course, PPT expects no such thing from the politically myopic or their puppeteers.)

Update 1: Read more here.

Update 2: PPT is corrected on our note above that Chiranuch risks 50 years in jail on the various charges brought against her. In fact, as Reporters Without Borders note under the heading “Absurd prosecutions”: “If prosecuted on all the charges currently registered in connection with the complaint, she could be facing up to 32 years in prison. At the same time, she is facing a possible 50-year sentence in a connection with an earlier, very similar, case.” 82 years jail! Abhisit and Kasit should be ashamed!