Web sites that have posted materials deemed potentially offensive to the Thai royal family have been blocked by successive military-appointed and democratically elected Thai governments. And the campaign of censorship is accelerating under new Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
The monarchy has been caught in the middle of
Beginning last year, a group of academics, activists, journalists and webmasters held informal meetings to discuss the emerging threat to Internet freedom in the wake of the passage of the 2007 Cyber Crime Act and the intensified use of lese majeste charges against journalists, commentators, and everyday Internet users. Both laws give Thai officials the authority to censor news and opinions that could be deemed a threat to national security or the monarchy.
TNN coalesced into a formal organization soon after several
local Web sites, including news and commentary outlets Prachathai and Fah Diew Kan,
were threatened with closure last year by officials for posting materials
offensive to the monarchy. Fah Diew
TNN coordinator Supinya Klangnarong told CPJ that the new group's main missions are to keep Thailand's Internet open and free, to monitor government surveillance and censorship, and to provide moral and legal support to Internet users and writers who encounter harassment for their postings.
Currently, TNN is publicizing the case and arranging legal representation for Suwicha Thakor, an oil-rig engineer who was arrested and held without bail on January 14 for posting materials onto the Internet considered offensive to the monarchy. They have also taken up the case of BBC correspondent Jonathan Head, who faces three different lese majeste complaints filed by a senior Thai police official.
"We are trying to establish a channel with the police to
reduce tension and frustration," said Supinya from her back alley
The group has already notched some advocacy successes. On January 13, TNN members met with the prime minister to voice their concerns about the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology's recent move to establish an 80 million baht (US$2.29 million) "war room" tasked with monitoring and censoring the Internet.
During TNN's meeting with the prime minister, the group's core members proposed and Abhisit agreed to the establishment of a working group to discuss Internet freedom issues and the need to balance free expression with upholding the monarchy.
"He said he understood our concerns, but that we needed to understand he is under pressure from many groups to protect the country and monarchy," Supinya said, recounting the meeting. "We're still waiting to hear back from him."