In Thailand, legislation allows censorship of online news

New York, May 14, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned that new legislation in Thailand will further weaken press freedom guarantees. On Thursday, the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) passed legislation granting the government the power to censor critical online news reports.

The bill, which will become law after it receives approval from King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is designed broadly to deal with Internet-related crimes. But the legislation also includes provisions that will allow the Information and Communication Technology Ministry to obtain court orders to censor Internet content in order to maintain national security and protect the population’s “good morals.”

The legislation calls for prison terms of up to five years for disseminating “improper” content over the Internet. The bill also makes it a crime for Internet users to access government-blocked sites through the use of proxy servers.

“We call on Thailand’s military government to honor its pledge to uphold press freedom,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Since it seized power last September, the ruling Council for National Security has led a campaign to try to silence its critics both online and in traditional media. Those polices must be brought to a halt.”

The Council for National Security has censored a number of politically oriented Web sites, including sites that favored ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra and others deemed to be critical of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In April, the Information and Communication Technology Ministry ordered the Communications Authority of Thailand, which controls Thailand’s Internet gateway, to block access to the video-sharing Web site YouTube because of content it deemed offensive to the Thai monarchy.

The military junta has promised that Thailand’s new constitution, now being written, will include press freedom guarantees, but analysts are skeptical. The 1997 constitution, now abolished, had enshrined many of the principles of press freedom.

This month, CPJ named Thailand one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom.