Thursday, May 26, 2011

THAILAND - Carte blanche censorship

Advocacy groups, citizens' rights, defenders of freedom of expression, online media and netizens have all protested against the new bill against cybercrime to replace the current law. They have good reason to fear the new law, because, in comparison, the current legislation, they consider repressive already, will seem rather mild.

The evidence of the severity of the current law are numerous. Since its implementation, July 18, 2007, tens of thousands of sites were blocked, blacklisted or closed by the Department of Information Technology and Communication. Worse, many people were arrested for lese majeste, the best known case being that of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, webmaster for the independent newspaper online Prachatai [part addresses blocked by the authorities and inaccessible from Thailand] .

The case is still ongoing, but it has attracted much criticism on the part of national and international human rights of citizens. The first law against cybercrime has been adopted following the release of a YouTube video that has been collected by the government of Surayud Chulanont [Prime Minister after the coup that overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 ] to be too insulting to the monarchy.

Despite government requests, YouTube refused to remove the clip, which prompted the authorities to draft a law against the use of Internet they regard as unfair. The consequences of this repressive law are well known and have been perceived as an attack on freedom of expression in cyberspace.

It can hardly be surprised that the law sought to restrict freedom of expression on the Internet since it was drafted by a government installed by the military. It has always been in the habits of the military to exercise censorship in the interest - real or imagined - of the nation. But by a democratically elected government like the current prime minister, Abhisit, who pledged to support freedom of expression, one can only deplore the introduction of a law enforcement agency for more monitor Internet use.

Why do we need a new law? The tens of thousands of sites blocked, blacklisted or closed they are not sufficient for the department? The eminent professor Nidhi Eeo-seewong, the Midnight University [informal network of scholars founded in 1997 in Chiang Mai] said that public opinion had no jurisdiction over the adoption process of the new law - since its drafting to its implementation deliberation and vote in Parliament.

There was no single public hearing to allow Thais to exchange their views as the law would require that as great an impact on the population. It seems that the text was written hastily and in private by a handful of officials keeping the archaic belief that a "strict control" is the best defense against misuse of the Internet and to protect the revered monarchy.

In any event, certain provisions of the Act were formulated in a way that simply downloading a song could be considered a crime, as well as illegal possession of a program like Word, which can be used to write a message disparaging the monarchy. We do not need a new law against cyber crime.

The Department would make us much better service by refocusing its energies on developing new technologies, instead of being obsessed by censorship.

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