Thai government issues censorship decree

New York, April 14, 2009–As part of its declaration of a state of emergency on Sunday, the Thai government issued a decree that empowered officials to censor news considered a threat to national security, according to international and local news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the government to immediately rescind this order of censorship.

On Monday, the government ordered the blocking of satellite news broadcaster D Station, which is widely recognized as affiliated with the anti-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) protest group aligned with exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The station had broadcast live the UDD’s protests in front of Government House and frequent video-link call-ins by Thaksin, who in recent weeks called on his followers to rise up against the government through what he referred to as a “people’s revolution.” On April 8, more than 100,000 UDD supporters gathered around Government House to listen to Thaksin’s speech broadcasted by D Station. 

Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey at the prime minister’s office told local media that the station’s signal was cut because its broadcasts were “capable of causing chaos.” According to the news reports, the minister ordered local satellite service provider Thaicom to cut the station’s signal. The protest movement had earlier claimed Abhisit’s government was sporadically jamming its satellite signal, allegations the government previously denied.

“Silencing media during political crises does a disservice to the Thai people,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “CPJ calls on the government to immediately rescind this order of censorship.”

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared the state of emergency for Bangkok and adjoining provinces after anti-government street protesters blocked major roadways and disrupted a summit meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations which several regional leaders were scheduled to attend, according to international news reports.

Both sides in the escalating political conflict continue to threaten journalists and news outlets attempting to cover anti-government street protests and the government’s response.

According to local news reports, UDD protest leaders angrily told several Thai reporters on Monday that they could no longer guarantee their security and ordered them to leave the protest site at Government House because of what they said was biased reporting of their activities. Many reporters relocated their mobile reporting base from the protests to the nearby parliament building, according to the same reports.   

Local news reports also indicated that UDD protestors staged protests in front of several pro-government National Broadcasting of Thailand Channel 11 offices across the country, forcing station managers to stop their broadcasts to many northeastern provinces where support for Thaksin’s former government is strongest.

The protests in Bangkok were largely suppressed by this afternoon, but it was still unclear if UDD protesters in the provinces would ramp up their protest activities in response.