Siam Voices: July 2, 2012
Police investigations are now under way in the case of journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk, who was questioned by police on Friday over allegations that several of his articles, published on Prachatai.com, were in violation of Thailand’s lese majeste law.
It remains unclear whether the esteemed Thai journalist will be formally charged. Yesterday he met with police, “not as a suspect or defendant, but strangely enough – under Thai law – as a witness”:
They wanted me to acknowledge whether I had written those articles myself, in which I said yes, all seven of them were written by me. The editor of Prachatai was also questioned, to also acknowledge that all these articles were authorized by Prachatai before it was put up on the website.
Particularly, I was asked what my intention was, in writing all of these articles.
I said that the articles were written for the benefit of the public, an opinion piece which takes into consideration the problem of the lese-majeste law and its repercussions to society. I also told them that it was written on a pro bono basis and that I work full-time at the Nation.
In the modest Prachatai office, the police:
…asked about my educational background. I didn’t expect them to ask that! I’m not sure, since this is the first time I’ve been questioned by police in my life… it might be a standard question. I told them I had a postgraduate degree.
(They) were polite, and off-the-cuff they complained how troubled they feel with the seemingly never-ending police complaints made by this particular man, “iPad”… They (the police) have no choice but to process the whole thing.
They said it will take some time before they decide (whether to prosecute). Police officers will decide whether to the Central Police in Bangkok or not. It will take some time… no idea how long. I didn’t ask, because I didn’t want to pressure them.
… Police should handle the situation in a straightforward manner. I hold no grudges against the person who filed the charges against me. I even joked with police – there were three of them, the most senior, a Police Colonel, who I suppose is in charge – I handed them my name-cards, and told them if anything happened, to let me know so I could run in advance! (laughs)
I’m not worried about me. I’m worried about the other political prisoners… I’ve been told by some people… Surachai (prisoner of conscience) sent me a message. His wife told me: “run while you can!”
“I’m not running,” he says, circumspect, and characteristically direct. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Lisa Gardner is a freelance journalist based in Bangkok. Follow her on Twitter @leesebkk
June 28, 2012
Thailand may have chaired the UN’s Human Rights Council but no case more clearly demonstrates Thailand’s total disregard for human rights than that of PULO.
The Patani United Liberation Organisation was founded in 1968 although there had been an active separatist movement since at least 1941. PULO’s demand was for separation of the five Southern Muslim provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani, Songkhla and Satun.
These provinces were part of the autonomous sultanate of Patani which was divided by King Chulalongkorn when he sold four lower Patani provinces (Saiburi, renamed Kedah; Kelantan; Perlis; and Terengganu) to England in 1910 in order to finance a railway unifying Thailand from north to south. It goes without saying that this division was accomplished with no representation by Malays.
The principal target of PULO for bombings was this very railroad; the bombings were always announced and very few were ever hurt. The principal effect was delay and inconvenience to passengers giving them ample time to contemplate the resentment and frustration of Patani. Patani has become the very poorest region in Thailand not least due to the horrific body count.
Despite a massive military and police presence under continuous martial law, since 2004, 4,800 have been killed, 6,000+ wounded, more than 5,000 arrested, 21 executed by death penalty and 21 serving life sentences. While the causes to resort to violence are abundantly clear, unbelievably, govt ‘intelligence’ has not been able to identify the actual insurgents (which they number between 500 and 15,000!) or the sources of their weapons.
Patani’s recent violent insurgency has nothing whatsoever to do historically or logistically with PULO. Yet Thai govt is making Useng a scapegoat for the violence they have been unable to stop by brute military force. In fact, Useng appears to have been sentenced simply for his opinions; the Criminal Court would not have dropped his charges were he accused of any violent act.
Should be be inclined to trust such matters to judicial fairness, note that the Criminal Court of First Instance dropped all charges against Useng. The Public Prosecutor appealed the ruling (of course) and the Appeals Court was inclined to the death penalty. This was precisely the same judicial scenario as that against the three Palace servants accused to regicide in the death of King Ananda.
Keep them coming back to court until we get the right verdict: Guilty!
FREE USENG! FREE PATANI!
June 28, 2012
No court orders for Google takedown requests
Let’s examine Google’s statistics on Thailand’s takedown requests more closely. Firstly, Google showed an appalling 100% compliance with MICT censorship, despite the fact that all 149 recorded instances were “Government criticism”—which surely shouldn’t be banned anywhere. It gets worse.
MICT’s censorship is rooted in the Computer Crimes Act, an act which requires that each and every block must be sanctioned by court order.
(The MICT requests for court orders are not looked at by judges but merely rubber-stamped into oblivion. No figures are ever revealed as to URLs blocked, nor are the reasons for blocking made public and even the court orders are kept secret. FACT estimates that, as of June 20, 903,036 webpages had been blocked in Thailand by this system of secret censorship.)
However, the four Google takedown requests, which were all for YouTube video, were not approved by court order. Without a court order, Thai govt’s censorship becomes nor only unConstitutional but criminal.
Jeez, Google, we really want to break up with you because our relationship too often feels like rape…and then you bring us flowers like your Transparency Report!
See also: “Google release Transparency Report: Thailand an unknown quantity” by Lisa Gardner at Siam Voices: http://asiancorrespondent.com/84508/thailands-unknown-quantity-google-releases-transparency-report-assists-authorities-in-blocking-online-content/
Google calls increasing requests to remove political content ‘alarming’
Agence France-Presse: June 18, 2012
Political commentary remains a prime target as governments increase the number of requests for Google to remove material from the reach of Internet users.
The Internet giant on Sunday released its fifth semi-annual Transparency Report providing insights into requests by countries around the world to “take down” content from search results or Google venues such as YouTube.
“Just like every other time before, we’ve been asked to take down political speech,” Google senior policy analyst Dorothy Chou said.
“It’s alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect — Western democracies not typically associated with censorship.”
The number of requests from the United States doubled in the second half of last year. Ukraine, Jordan and Bolivia showed up for the first time on the list of countries out to have online material removed, according to Google.
Google reported that it went along with slightly more than half of the approximately 1,000 requests it received to remove material or links.
The transparency report doesn’t provide insights regarding countries such as China where tight Internet controls allow for blocking of content, eliminating the need to ask Google to take down content.
From the start of July through December of last year, Google complied with approximately 65 percent of the more that 467 court orders to remove material and with 47 percent of the more than 561 request without judicial backing.
“We noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services,” Chou said.
Google said the number of requests has grown steadily during the past two years.
Spanish regulators asked Google to remove 270 search results that linked to blogs and articles in newspapers referencing private individuals or public figures, including mayors and public prosecutors.
In Poland, a public institution asked Google to remove links to a website criticizing it. Chou said that Google did not comply with those requests in either country.
An electoral court order from Brazil resulted in Google removing four profiles from its Orkut social network for political content.
Broad defamation laws in Brazil allow for obtaining court orders to remove even truthful information from the Internet, according to Google.
The law there also reportedly bans showing parodies of candidates during elections, leading to requests for removal of material such as bits by celebrity comedians.
Among the requests turned down by Google was one from Canadian officials for the removal of a YouTube video of a Canadian citizen peeing on his passport and flushing it down a toilet.
The number of content removal requests received by Google in India was 49 percent higher in the second half of last year than in the first six months.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Information Technology asked Google to remove six YouTube videos that satirized the country’s military and senior politicians. Google did not comply with that request.
Google said it did terminate five YouTube accounts at the behest of the United Kingdom Association of Police Officers, which contended they promoted terrorism.
The Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology in Thailand asked Google to remove 149 YouTube videos for allegedly insulting the monarchy there. Google restricted 70 percent of the videos from view online in Thailand.
Requests from Turkish information technologies officials centered on videos of the founder of modern-day Turkey, and Google responded by making the targeted clips unavailable in that country.
“We realize that the numbers we share can only provide a small window into what’s happening on the Web at large,” Chou said.
“But we do hope that by being transparent about these government requests, we can continue to contribute to the public debate about how government behaviors are shaping our Web.”
(Thanks to intrepid journo Lisa Gardner for pointing this out.)
June 28, 2012
[FACT comments: We have just revisited Saul Alinsky’s incisive 1971 work which follows from his Reveille for Radicals (1946). Both are worth reading in the modern context. As we 1960s radicals grow old, one thing we’ve learned for sure is that revolution ain’t so easy! FACT has lived by these rules. While we have seen an increase in censorship rather than a reduction with no progress on govt transparency or accountability, FACT’s success is that censorship is now a hot-button issue in Thailand where, before, it was simply never acknowledged or discussed. Similarly, lèse majesté as censorship was even more taboo until FACT started the conversation. As usual, Emma Goldman said it best: “If there won't be dancing at the revolution, I'm not coming.” So, laugh at the censors; these dinosaurs can’t even see their own extinction.]
1. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”
2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people. When an action or tactic is outside the experience of the people, the result is confusion, fear and retreat…. [and] the collapse of communication.
3. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)
4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”
5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.”
6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Man can sustain militant interest in any issue for only a limited time….”
8. “Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.”
9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”
10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this unceasing pressure that results in the reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign.”
11. “If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside… every positive has its negative.”
12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”
13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and ‘frozen.’…
“…any target can always say, ‘Why do you center on me when there are others to blame as well?’ When your ‘freeze the target,’ you disregard these [rational but distracting] arguments…. Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all the ‘others’ come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target…’
“One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other.” (pps.127-134)
|Saul Alinksky, Rules for Radicals, Vintage Books, New York, 1989.|
June 10, 2012
These videos may well be blocked by the zealous conspirators against the monarchy. However, the content will not be blocked everywhere. Search “YouTube affiliates” to find a source.
“Rhetoric and Dissent: Where to next for Thailand’s lèse majesté law?”
เสวนา 112 ภาคภาษาอังกฤษ
How did I manage to miss this single most brave, factual, outstanding presentation against lèse majesté laws so far in Thailand?!?
There was little, if any, opinion presented to this seminar. In particular, eminent and elderly Thai historians, Benedict Anderson and Saw Sivaraksa (a Royalist who has himself been charged with lèse majesté several times) used a long lens to expose the laws to scrutiny in light of factual history.
This was a brilliant panel called by Australian journalist, Lisa Gardner, a dear friend who consistently demonstrates great insight and cuts through the bullshit. We are privileged to be her friend and celebrate her love for Thailand.
Readers may be interested in the backstory that two venues backtracked on this seminar. Frankly, we are particularly ashamed by the continuing lack of moral fortitude of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, of which several panelists are members. We hope Lisa wears it as a mark of great distinction to be shitcanned by the spineless FCCT.
Andrew MacGregor Marshall resigned as a 17-year Reuters veteran and moved to Singapore to report honestly on Thailand from US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. He of necessity spoke to this seminar by Skype VOIP link. His web postings are blocked in Thailand and he has been declared persona non grata in the Kingdom. It is widely expected he would be charged with lèse majesté should he ever return to Thailand. However, Andrew Marshall is the epitome of journalistic integrity: he never offers us his own opinion. He puts the story together from documented historical sources. And he’s not afraid to confront the death of King Ananda head on.
Ajarn Sulak came to the rescue by offering his foundation as a venue for the seminar. For me, the most fascinating presentation was Sulak’s—he pointed out that Thailand actually didn’t have an absolute monarchy in the sense of absolute control before King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) (in any case, he was the first king to ban books). And that Thailand actually used its Constitutional monarchy until 1948 (I might take exception during the Japanese occupation) when the young and inexperienced King Bhumibol was coopted by a series of military strongmen who perverted the monarchy to their own corrupt ends.
These were political events from which the monarchy in Thailand has never recovered. The shameless self-promotion of Thailand’s monarchy was exposed as simple window-dressing with no substance.
Ajarn Sulak sees the explosion of lèse majesté prosecutions as a conspiracy by politicians loyal to Thaksin to destroy the monarchy and, of course, install the fugitive as first ruler of a new republic upon his triumphant return. The pols are doing a pretty good job of it so far so it’s not much of a stretch to find this believable. The question remains who is responsible for this plot to end the monarchy and who are the hoodwinked, gullible patsies playing into their hands.
Thai govt is already laying waste to our powerful and fragile Constitution. Who can doubt their plans to bring down the monarchy are far behind?
A Khao Sod reporter in the question period commented that he didn’t think anything he’d heard would be reported in his newspaper. So far, neither English daily offered any reportage, either. Are the Thai media who support L-M prosecutions part of the republican plot or are they fools?
Ajarn Sulak finds evidence to support the view King Bhumibol is against these laws. Intrepid journalist (and FACT signer) Pravit presented for the first time stunning news about King Bhumibol’s opinion regarding the use of lèse majesté laws. At the L-M trial of Redshirt editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a prosecution witness responded to a defence assertion that the King opposed the laws by saying that, even so, these are the laws.
For ease of viewing this two-and-a-quarter hour presentation, Lisa’s introductions and the panelists begin at approximately the following times: Pravit Rojanaphruk at 00:00; Dr. Benedict Anderson at 21:50; Ajarn Sulak Sivaraksa at 40:00; Andrew MacGregor Marshall at 50:00; Lisa Gardner’s conclusion and question period at 1:09:00.
Lisa had one sucker-punch message for MICT: “You can’t stop the Internet!”
This panel, more than any other, has given me hope that freedom of expression will prevail in Thailand. Every presenter was gifted a bottle of wine (whisky for Scots Andrew) by Lisa and shared with the audience.
Thank you, Lisa and all for a wonderful evening on YouTube, even if I missed the main event!
June 10, 2012
IPS News: June 5, 2012
When Thai police raided the headquarters of the popular alternative news portal ‘Prachatai’ and arrested its executive director, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, back in 2009, the 46-year-old media worker was completely in the dark about her crime.
Premchaiporn claims she had never heard the expression “intermediary liability” before that fateful day.
“I had difficulty pronouncing and spelling this term correctly,” she recalled to IPS in a noisy canteen. “It was not easy to explain to people what it meant and I could not find the proper translation in Thai to explain its actual implications.”
Now she has had a harsh lesson in one of the more insidious aspects of censorship laws in the country. Intermediary liability falls under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA), approved by a parliament selected after the military coup in 2006, which threatens jail terms for those who allow the distribution of “prohibited” information in cyberspace.
A landmark verdict by the criminal court on May 30 found Premchaiporn guilty of neglecting her role as an “intermediary” by failing to monitor the comments on Prachatai’s online message board.
Her oversight resulted in a violation of the notorious lese majeste law, which threatens long jail terms for the publication of comments or actions deemed insulting to the royal family.
In justifying the verdict of a one-year suspended prison term for the media worker, presiding judge Kampol Rungrat brought into sharp focus the new responsibilities managers of websites, blogs and Facebook pages will now have to bear – to immediately censor “prohibited” comments posted on message boards.
As a webmaster, Premchaiporn was expected to bear the “liability of an intermediary,” the judge pointed out, adding that the she should have reviewed all messages on the website and removed any comments that were “prohibited by the CCA.”
It did not matter that the offending message had appeared at a time when Prachatai, then only five years since its launch and operating with a skeleton staff, was attracting between 20,000 to 30,000 users to a message board registering 2,800 comments daily, covering about 300 topics.
Since the country’s 18th coup in 2006, and the military’s ongoing domination of politics, scores of netizens were drawn to the website’s critical coverage of politics and forum for intense debates.
“This case was a test of how the criminal courts will interpret the CCA,” Teerapan Pankeere, Premchaiporn’s lawyer, told IPS. “This verdict should put all Internet service providers on (guard): they will have to seriously control and check messages posted on their website.”
The ruling comes at a time when Thailand is witnessing a rise in Internet traffic, with over 18 million of the country’s 66 million people online. The registered 14.2 million Facebook users partially explain why 27 percent of this Southeast Asian nation’s citizens are spending long hours surfing the net.
Thailand’s online business sector is also growing, with the global multinational Google helping 80,000 small and medium Thai companies “come on line to help improve their business” in the past year alone.
Many experts and press freedom advocates are growing increasingly concerned about the “chilling effect” draconian censorship laws are having on Thailand’s vibrant Internet community. Particularly worrying is a new wave of self-censorship that will likely gather speed as fear seeps into online fora.
“The guilty verdict for Chiranuch Premchaiporn, for something somebody else wrote on her website, is a serious threat to the future of the Internet in Thailand,” remarked Taj Meadows, spokesman for Google’s Asia-Pacific division.
“Telephone companies are not penalised for things people say on the phone and responsible website owners should not be punished for comments users post on their sites – but Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act is being used to do just that,” Meadows told IPS from his Tokyo office. “The precedent set is bad for Thai businesses, users and the innovative potential of Thailand’s Internet economy.”
The case has already created a “chill” on the message boards of many websites, and this self-censorship is going to worsen, warned Gayathry Venkiteswaran, head of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), a Bangkok-based regional media rights watchdog. “Thai websites that hosted web boards and forums have begun to take them down.”
Premchaiporn’s case came as yet another blow to the country’s netizens, who, aside from struggling under the military’s severe press regulations since the 2006 coup, have had to contend with efforts by a military-backed government to black out websites as part of a clamp-down on freedom of expression during bloody street protests in Bangkok in 2010.
Netizens have also had to endure the ministry of information and communication technology seeking court orders to shut down websites that supposedly violated the CCA.
According to Freedom Against Censorship, Thailand, a Bangkok-based media rights lobby, government officials have blocked close to 878,196 web pages since the 2006 coup, among them 90,000 Facebook pages.
The new burden on Internet intermediaries here places Thailand in the same league as other Asian countries such as Malaysia and India, which have passed laws that demand close scrutiny of online dialogue in response to the growing power of independent media. Some Asian governments such as China, North Korea, Singapore and Vietnam have been even harsher, authorising direct and often violent interventions against press freedom.
In Europe, by contrast, intermediaries are not held responsible for content posted on websites of which they are not the authors – an argument used by an international witness who appeared in the trial to bolster Premchaiporn’s defence.
One explanation for this difference is that Internet intermediaries here are mistakenly viewed as newspaper editors, who are subject to national press laws. “Thailand’s CCA is being used very much like the country’s press laws that hold editors liable for the content of their publications,” remarked Pirongrong Ramasoota, head of the journalism department at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, at a seminar on Internet freedom.
“You cannot treat intermediaries and web service providers as if they were newspaper editors,” she argued. “Till this difference is recognised, laws like the CCA will be used as roadblocks to slow down Internet traffic.”
June 10, 2012
Holding websites responsible for user posts will stunt growth and endanger free speech.
Wall Street Journal: June 6, 2012
The Thai government bought one million tablet computers last month to distribute to students across the country. This ambitious “one tablet per child” policy, one of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s campaign promises, is the largest such program in the world and shows that Bangkok wants to meet the challenge of an Internet-based economy. But the newly tableted youth will soon discover that Thailand’s Internet is hampered by another challenge: restrictive laws on websites, social networks and search engines.
The 2007 Computer Crimes Act holds online intermediaries (web portals and the like) liable for illegal content posted by others. The only condition is that these middlemen sites or servers must be shown to have the “intent to spread” the content, but in practice the definition of “intent” in this context is so vague the law can apply to just about anyone. This law is particularly significant in Thailand because other laws, especially the lese-majeste laws prohibiting certain comments about the monarchy, can apply to many kinds of Internet communications.
Thailand has in recent years scared Internet businesses and investors away with several high-profile criminal cases that rely on the Computer Crimes Act. Last week, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, known by her nickname “Jiew,” was convicted for comments that others posted on her popular online newspaper Prachatai which were deemed disrespectful to the monarchy. Not taking down a user’s comment in a “reasonable” amount of time can be deemed tantamount to promoting it. Because Jiew didn’t take one comment down quickly enough, she had broken the Computer Crimes Act.
Jiew escaped a severe sentence, but the incident demonstrates the power of the Computer Crimes Act and raises serious questions for web operators. The law specifies neither how such an intermediary should receive official notice that they’re hosting something illegal nor how long they have to take it down after that notice. The Jiew trial didn’t clarify these questions either. Now, news reports indicate the law may even be revised to punish intermediaries further. The proposed revision would fine the intermediary, or jail him to a term that would be one-and-a-half times the one handed to the actual criminal.
Chiranuch Premchaiporn was convicted last week under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act.
Beyond the serious consequences for individuals, this law also exacts an economic cost. Bangkok once dreamed of becoming Southeast Asia’s Internet leader, and has invested in information technologies. Besides the one tablet per child program, it plans for free wireless connectivity and the deployment of third-generation telecom networks. McKinsey recently looked at 30 countries that, like Thailand, have a fast-growing economy and rapidly expanding Internet and found that the Internet on average accounted for 1.9% of those countries’ economic output.
The opportunities in Thai e-commerce are impressive, and the right laws can help. Today on Tarad.com, Thailand’s largest e-commerce site, 45% of all transactions are being made with credit cards. The number two player in the e-commerce space, Shopping.co.th, has seen similar growth, with the value of their online credit card transactions increasing 1000% last year. That’s due to laws that effectively punish online fraud and support secure e-banking practices.
A poorly conceived law that targets the middleman website or portal jeopardizes all these advantages. Online bulletin boards, especially, are a huge source of information and hence build value. Pantip is Thailand’s largest, with an average of 4,600 new discussion topics per day. The information on those boards can help consumers to find the right prices, businesses to find the right customers, startups to get discovered and friends to connect. But how is an e-commerce site supposed to judge the risk of an illegal comment being posted in its product review section?
All this seems obvious and yet the Thai government is unlikely to repeal the law. A loosely defined law allows the authorities to prosecute intermediaries, rather than provide a clear framework that clarifies the risks and allows businesses and users to make informed decisions and reap the benefits of a thriving Internet economy.
Still, there are some ways for the law to be changed to reduce the harm. Thailand needs laws like the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 or the European Union’s E-Commerce Directive that clarify the risks intermediaries take on. When websites are provided safe harbor by governments, they know exactly what it will take to operate within the law and can comply accordingly. But establishing a safe harbor takes work, requiring all parties—governments, intermediaries and users—to engage in the process. Although not the path of least resistance, a clear legal framework for safe harbor can enable the removal of illegal content while not undermining innovation and economic opportunities.
The Internet is bound to feature in Thailand’s high-growth future. Bangkok now has an opportunity to lay the legal foundation for that future, if it understands that free expression plays a big role in economic development.
Mr. Brooks is the independent chair of the Global Network Initiative.