Troops confront protesters in Bangkok. (Reuters/Sukree Sukplang)
Troops confront protesters in Bangkok. (Reuters/Sukree Sukplang)

Emergency censorship deepens unrest in Thailand

New York, April 9, 2010—The Thai government should restore access to news outlets censored after a state of emergency was declared Wednesday in response to antigovernment protests, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Journalists reporting on the unrest are increasingly vulnerable to physical assault as clashes between protesters and authorities escalate. 

A number of opposition Web sites and at least one TV channel, the opposition-run satellite station People’s Television, were unavailable Thursday after the emergency decree enabled authorities to gag reporting considered to cause instability, according to international news reports. Demonstrators trying to force Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva from office by calling for immediate elections triggered the emergency when they stormed the parliament building on Wednesday, the reports said.  

Domestic access to 36 Web sites was blocked on the order of Suthep Thaugsaban, deputy prime minister in charge of national security, according to international news reports. Several of the sites are openly aligned with the protesters—whose red shirts identify them as supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra—but news and discussion forum Prachathai, which characterizes itself as independent, was also blocked, the reports said.

Protesters stormed the People’s Television compound today, confronting security forces until authorities agreed to allow the station to resume broadcasting, news reports said. A government spokesman said the signal was under official control, however, according to The Associated Press. Several activists and soldiers were injured during the clash, but no journalists were reported among the casualties.

The censorship measures recalled a state of emergency decree the government issued on April 12, 2009, censoring a satellite television station, community radio news broadcasts, and more than 70 Web sites amid similar city-wide protests.

“As soon as demonstrators hit the streets the Thai government’s knee-jerk response is to censor,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “In a democracy like Thailand the authorities have a duty to allow all voices to be heard.”

Two attackers on a motorcycle hurled a makeshift bomb at a car belonging to a Thai daily Matichon messenger that was parked outside the newspaper’s offices on April 2, according to a statement by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance. No one was injured as the car burned and no suspects have been identified, according to the statement.  

Assailants on motorcycles also launched two grenade attacks against state-owned television news stations in Thailand on March 27. Some journalists say government-owned news outlets also report with a pro-government bias, according to CPJ research.