Updated: SEAPA and Asian Correspondent on monarchy debate

22 03 2013

Readers may find the Southeast Asia Press Alliance statement on the royalist panic over intelligent debate about monarchy and lese majeste of some interest. There’s nothing particularly new in the statement, but a useful summary of events.

The note on the lese majeste investigation is worth repeating:

Police said that the show concerns a matter of national security, and warned that persons reposting remarks of the show’s panellist may also be breaching the law.

The police chief has also ordered authorities to monitor whether the program was posted online and also ordered all stations to accept lese majeste complaints filed in relation to the case.

Police investigators reviewing the series have found content that violated the lese majeste law, according to a police spokesman.

Update: Siam Voices also has a useful summary of events,including the royalist reaction, mentioning the usual suspects. Described as another low-light, Deputy Prime Minister and troglodyte royalist Chalerm Yubamrung stated:

“Don’t they have anything better to do than criticise the monarchy? It is their right to do so but there must be some limit,” he continued. “Thailand has a population of 64 million. Why give so much attention to the opinions of a small group of people?”

The quote from Army boss Prayuth Chan-ocha is revealing, as ever:

The hawkish general has been previously quoted saying that victims of the lèse majesté law “should not be whining” because “they know it better.” He has also said the following (as previously blogged here), which kind of foreshadows his own words from this week and may should adhere to his own advice then:

“(…) คือกฎหมายเราและประเทศไทยก็คือประเทศไทย ผมไม่เข้า(ใจ)ว่าหลายๆคนอยากจะให้ประเทศไทยเป็นเหมือนประเทศอื่น มีเสรีทุกเรื่อง แล้วถามว่ามันจะอยู่กันยังไงผมไม่รู้ ขนาดแบบนี้ยังอยู่กันไม่ได้เลย” พล.อ.ประยุทธ์ กล่าว

“(…) Our laws are our laws and Thailand is Thailand. I don’t understand why so many people want Thailand to be like other countries – to have freedom in everything – how can we live? I don’t know… I can’t live even like it is now already!” said Gen. Prayuth

‘ประยุทธ์’แจงปิดวิทยุชุมชนหมิ่นยันทำตามกฎหมาย“, Krungthep Turakij, April 29, 2011

 

 





SEAPA on Chiranuch trial and what it reveals

16 02 2011

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance has a story posted on the implications seen so far of the trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn on charges related to lese majeste and the Computer Crimes Act. SEAPA is a regional organization promoting and protecting press freedom in Southeast Asia. Its member in Thailand is the Thai Journalists’ Association.

SEAPA comments on the prosecution’s presentation of five of its nine witnesses. It says that the trial has so far “highlighted how authorities, particularly the Ministry of Information and Computer Technology (MICT), defined lese majeste and online intermediary liability, and the MICT’s procedures on the handling of online messages accused of containing contents defamatory to Thailand’s monarchy.”

In essence, what has been shown is that the authorities believe that “lese majeste online did not necessarily mean outright defamation of the monarch or the royal family but even the mere allusion or references to them would suffice for liability.” This included interpreting “certain phrases and even certain pronouns in the messages in question as alluding to members of the royal family.” Further, “even the retelling of certain factual accounts of the royals’ action, in this case, the posting of a message discussing the attendance of the Queen to a funeral of a member of the Yellow Shirts in 2008, could constitute lese majeste just because of the perceived danger it would pose to society.”

The ministry revealed that it is “compelled to prosecute when lese majeste was involved.” Apparently this includes the supposition that the monarchy is being alluded to in certain messages. Ironically, MICT seems exempted from the obligation to remove “offending ” messages as the ministry could not take down links to online messages from its own website. “Earlier, the defense lawyers noted that the MICT website provides links to online contents that have lese majeste materials.”

The prosecution resumes its case on 1 September with the defense team getting four days starting 11 October.





SEAPA on ongoing suppression of freedom of expression

4 10 2010

Prachatai has the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) open letter to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, “expressing its concerns over the ongoing suppression of freedom of expression in Thailand and calling on him to look into the issue as he has always promised to do.” PPT thinks that Abhisit’s statements on media freedom can be set aside for it is his actions that count, and they have been to reinforce and deepen censorship and political repression. Here’s the open letter:

4 October 2010

Your Excellency Abhisit Vejjajiva

Prime Minister

Thailand

Dear Sir:

We bring to your attention once again the deteriorating environment for free expression in Thailand, as demonstrated by the continuing misuse of Thailand’s Computer-related Crime Act.

The recent arrest of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, Executive Director and Webmaster of the independent news website Prachatai.com upon her arrival from a conference on Internet liberty in Hungary is the latest in a string of unreasonable and highly questionable acts in relation to the cybercrime law.

The three-year-old Computer-related Crime Act continues to be abused and as such undermines free speech and disallows even legitimate discourse on political reform in Thailand posted online. Its vague provision on what constitutes security-related offenses and the wide-ranging powers this law bestows on authorities have been abused in the face of the lack of transparency and accountability of the law enforcers.

Ms Chiranuch was arrested at the airport on charges of violating sections 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code and sections 14 and 15 of the Computer-related Crime Act based on a warrant issued more than a year ago. The complainant was a man in Khon Kaen province whose identity the police did not want to immediately reveal.

On top of this, Ms. Chiranuch is already facing 10 counts of violating sections 14 and 15 of the same Computer Crime Act, based on accusations that she failed, as Prachatai webmaster, to take down defamatory comments immediately.

We see the discrepancies between the avowed aim of the law and its current application, which you promised on several occasions to look into.

Mr. Prime Minister, the case of Ms. Chiranuch is only one of several that have happened under your supervision.

We hold you to your promise of giving Thais a latitude of freedom, especially freedom of expression, whether in the mainstream media, or in the Internet. We are aware of the responsibilities inherent in such freedom and believe that offences should be dealt with in a proper legal manner and in a climate of political impartiality.

We ask you to give this controversial computer-related crime law your attention. The government’s media reform initiative as part of the five-point roadmap to restore peace and political stability in Thailand will lack credibility without addressing these very issues.

Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

Bangkok, Thailand

Also see the Asian Human Rights Commission’s note on Chiranuch Premchaiporn’s case where they refer to a “Grave and expanding threat to freedom of expression and human rights in Thailand.” They also have a clickable link for sending a letter of concern to various Thai authorities.





Regression in the media

29 08 2010

The Nation has an interesting report citing Roby Alampay, outgoing executive director of the Southeast Asean Press Alliance (SEAPA). His basic point is that media freedom has “palpably deteriorated” over the past six years; that is, a period coinciding with the last years of the Thaksin Shinawatra government, the rise of royalist opposition to Thaksin resulting in the 2006 coup and the period of royalist-military dominance since then. He says that much of the decline has been recent, “especially for broadcast media such as community radio stations and Web boards…”.

Alampay observed that it has been the “Internet over the past six years [that] has played a crucial role in allowing people to debate and air their views…”. Alampay also notes that censorship of this media, “state monitoring and the threat of prosecution over content in their e-mails or social networking sites” is highly “personal.”

It is also asserted that: “Print media fortunately remain very vibrant and free…”. That is true in Thaksin period, when the media was virtually united in its opposition to his government and said whatever it wanted – including being prepared to circulate patently false stories. Of course no print media – except for the now banned red shirt newspapers and magazines – ever developed the fortitude required to take on the monarchy and lese majeste laws. However, PPT rejects this account for the period since the coup. The mainstream press, until just this past 6-9 months when some notable exception (e.g. Matichon) emerged, has been almost as resolute in supporting the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime as it was in opposing Thaksin. Self-censorship was the rule, most especially related to red shirt demands and protests.

His positive view of the public TPBS television station also seems a little optimistic. When PPT has viewed it of late it seems to be having difficulty establishing any kind of independence.

Alampay warned of the “growing legal constraints that curb freedom of press and expression.” Here the reference is to lese majeste, computer crimes and similar legislation that is a dead weight on the media. He said, the current “Computer Crime Act was ‘dangerous’ because the authorities were exploiting its harsh penalties and weaknesses. Then there’s the spate of arrests under the lese majeste law.”

On Abhisit he said: “You have a prime minister who benefited from political and military upheavals, and he says all the right things about press freedom, but in the background, there’s a lot of trouble…”. He added that when “Abhisit first came to power, he told society ‘not to worry about the law’, but Alampay said things have turned out to be ‘quite disappointing and unfortunately got worse’ under the current administration.” There is no doubt that Alampay is correct on this.





SEAPA on the extended state of emergency

8 06 2010

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance has issued a statement on the indefinite extension of the state of emergency in Thailand. SEAPA aptly stated that:

“Though the Thai government has expressed its concern that incendiary messages in the media might threaten national security, it is also worth noting that the state of emergency has a tremendous impact on the free expression situation of Thailand.”

Read the entire statement here: 8 June 2010, “Thai government extends state of emergency”

As PPT posted earlier, the extension of the state of emergency is very concerning. What we now want to know is, how long, Mr. Abhisit, how long will you repress speech and arbitrarily detain those you see as dissident?





Further updated: Suthep’s order to block websites

8 04 2010

Thanks to a reader, here is the order by Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban authorizing the blocking of 36 websites (in PDF form –  Censor websites – and below as images).

Prachatai is #8. It’s English page is back up under a different domain name. The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) report is here.

Update: See FACT’s comment here and Reporters Without Borders here.





Attack on a Matichon staffer

4 04 2010

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance, via Prachatai, has reported that in the early hours of Sunday, 4 April 2010, the car of a Matichon/มติชน staffer was bombed and set on fire. The owner of the car, Lertrob Chueaman, was not in the car at the time and no one was injured.

The Thai Journalists Association (TJA) has expressed concern, with the TJA president Veerasak Pong-aksorn commenting that “I see that the number of threats against the media organizations has worriedly increased. Although no attacker could be identified but it is understandable that these incidents are the works of groups who benefit from the use of violence. Society should condemn those who are responsible for such violence.”

PPT joins the TJA in expressing concern — and calls, as always, for the protection of speech in Thailand and beyond.

Read the entire report here: “Car of daily’s employee set ablaze in Bangkok; spike in violence against journalists in Thailand feared”





The military and refugees

15 01 2010

Prachatai (13 January 2010) reports on the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and its expression of “grave concern over the Thai military’s attempts to suppress the news coverage of its deportation of 4,000 Hmong refugees from their camp in Thailand’s northern province of Petchabun in December 2009.

SEAPA states that the Thai Army blocked both Thai and foreign news crews from entering a major Hmong refugee camp in Baan Huay Nam Kao village, preventing them from reporting on the Thai Army’s relocation operation. The Army, in the meantime, held a press conference in a military camp in Pitsanulok province, some 100 kilometers away from the Ban Nam Khao refugee camp.

That’s what happens when the army is back with a huge political role and with a government that owes its position to the protective shell that the military provides.

SEAPA adds that the “plight of Hmong asylum seekers is already under-reported in the Thai media. The latest incident showed the Army’s effort to influence how the refugees’ deportation should be reported in the media.

Meanwhile, in the Bangkok Post (13 January 2010) US Ambassador to Thailand Eric G John has an article entitled “Lack of transparency thwarted attempts to safeguard Hmong.”

Expressing gratitude for Thailand’s hosting of “hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing conflict and political persecution in the region,” he points out that “Thailand was not left to shoulder this burden alone” with substantial international support and with “almost half a million men, women and children who entered Thailand seeking temporary refuge status have been ultimately resettled in the United States and other countries.”

John says that: “It is against this background of historical generosity and cooperation that the US was disappointed at the Thai decision to deport 4,689 Laotian Hmong asylum seekers back to Laos on Dec 28, 2009, despite clear indications that some in the group required protection.

He goes on to explain that the U.S. consulted for many months with our Thai civilian and military partners regarding the best way to identify people who needed protection…. We agreed with our Thai friends not to begin a resettlement programme for the entire group … due to the Thai concern that it would act as a magnet for more arrivals from Laos.

He adds: “we remained concerned that some in the camp had legitimate protection concerns and should not be forced to return. We encouraged participation by UNHCR, the organisation with the international mandate for making such determinations, and informed the Royal Thai Government that we would consider for resettlement in the US any cases referred to us. However, the Royal Thai Government denied the UNHCR access to the camp’s population.

Indeed, he points out that in January 2008, the Royal Thai Government assured us that it had conducted its own screening process, during which about 800 people were identified as having protection concerns and should not be returned to Laos involuntarily. Despite repeated requests, that list of 800 people was never provided to the UNHCR or to any potential resettlement country.

Furter, the “group detained in the Nong Khai immigration detention centre for over three years – which included 87 children – had been screened by UNHCR prior to their imprisonment and determined to have refugee status. Under international law, UNHCR-recognised refugees should not be forcibly returned to their country of origin…. All the refugees we interviewed in Nong Khai told us on Dec 28 that they did not wish to return to Laos, clearly indicating that the return was involuntary.”

This extraordinary and scathing indictment of the Thai government and its military is compulsory reading.





FCCT Charges Expand

2 07 2009

Lesè majesté charges in relation to speech at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand (FCCT) in 2007 have expanded to include the entire fifteen-person board of the organization.

According to Pravit Rojanaphruk’s article in the Nation (2 July 2009, “FCCT board faces police probe over lese majeste”), “Laksana Kornsilpa, 57, a translator and a critic of ousted and convicted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra filed a lese majeste complaint against the 13-member board at Lumpini police station on Tuesday night. Laksana was quoted on ASTV Manager website as claiming the board’s decision to sell DVD copies of Jakrapob Penkair’s controversial speech at the club back in 2007 constituted an act of lese majeste. She alleged that the whole board “may be acting in an organised fashion and the goal may be to undermine the credibility of the high institution of Thailand.””

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance and the Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH) have issued statements condemning the charges.

PPT also directs your attention to the excellent collections of links and analysis at New Mandala (Nicholas Farrelly, 2 July 2009, “The lese majeste circus continues”) and Bangkok Pundit (1 July 2009, “Lese Majeste Complaint Against the FCCT”)

Perhaps, as one commenter on New Mandala suggests, “This escalation is necessary to push the LM circus into a full and revelatory crisis of absurdity and unsustainability.”  The question remains, however, at what cost? How many lives will be harmed, how much speech repressed, and how many people’s human rights will  be violated before the the crisis becomes revelatory?





SEAPA and TJA statement for World Press Freedom Day

6 05 2009

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2009, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, the Thai Journalist Association, and many other Thai media organizations called for press freedom in the service of reducing violence in Thailand. They call for action to respect press freedom from the government, the media, politicians and the public. Of particular interest, they make the following request of the public:

The public must be considerate in receiving news and information and be open-minded to listen to difference views of the media outlets. They should exercise great caution in receiving information from the media especially those used as tools by political groups, and those issuing biased and prejudiced reports, with the intention of creating rifts and instigate the use of violence in resolving conflicts.”

Read the entire statement here, 5 May 2009, “SEAPA Statement: Government should respect press freedom; media must uphold fairness and accuracy”








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