Mr Burns tells Thai PM to lift emergency law

Bangkok Pundit: July 20, 2010

http://us.asiancorrespondent.com/bangkok-pundit-blog/mr-burns-tells-thai-pm-to-lift-emergency-law

A senior U.S. official urged Thailand on Friday to end a three-month state of emergency that allows the government to arrest and hold people without charge, censor the media and restrict public gatherings.

U.S. Under Secretary of State Bill Burns made the comment during a news conference with Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya at the start of an official visit to Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

“Clearly, the United States hopes that the state of emergency, that the decree, can be lifted as soon as possible,” Burns told reporters during a brief press conference.

BP: Puea Thai has also called for it to be lifted and even on the weekend the PAD’s New Politics Party said consideration should be given to lifting the state of emergency. Abhisit hinted on the weekend that it may be lifted in some additional provinces (currently a state of emergency is in place in 19 provinces), but when will it be lifted in its entirety?

btw, couldn’t resist posting this story so I could use Mr Burns in the headline….

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[FACT comments: It has become obvious that emergency powers will remain in the capital, perhaps for a very long time. Govt thinks it can hang on to draconian rule. However, we’d like to know if govt has lifted Internet censorship and applied for court orders for blocked websites in the provinces where martial law has been lifted. If you live in a province where the Decree has been lifted, do you have your Internet back? Is FACT unblocked?]

Emergency Decree Revoked in Three More Provinces

Public Relations Dept: July 20, 2010

http://www.thaiembassy.sg/announcements/emergency-decree-revoked-in-three-more-provinces

On 20 July 2010, the Thai Cabinet revoked the use of the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation, B.E. 2548 (2005) in three more provinces, namely, Lampang Roi Et and Sakon Nakhon.  The decision was made based on the assessment that the situation there had returned fully to normalcy.  With this and the earlier cabinet decision on 13 July 2010 to lift the state of emergency in five provinces, the Emergency Decree now remains in effect in 16 provinces where its use is still deemed necessary.  These are: Bangkok, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan, Pathumthani, Ayutthaya, Chonburi, Chiangmai, Chiangrai, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Chaiyaphum, Nakhon Rachasima, Ubon Ratchathani, Nong Bua Lampoo, Mahasarakham and Mukdahan.

Be that as it may, the use of the Emergency Decree has not affected ordinary people and their normal way of life or conduct of businesses.  The use of the Emergency Decree in the remaining provinces is also under constant review.  The Prime Minister stated during his press interview after the Cabinet meeting on 20 July that the National Security Council has to submit regular reports on the implementation of measures under the Emergency Decree so as to ensure oversight and to facilitate consideration of whether the Decree should be further revoked in the remaining provinces.

On a separate matter, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva took the opportunity during his weekly television programme on 18 July 2010 to inform the public about media reform and his Government’s intention and approach on the issue, which is part of the country’s reconciliation plan.

The Prime Minister noted that unlike other aspects of the reconciliation plan, no committee would be set up on this issue.  He added that what should be considered was how the media could operate with freedom and exercise such freedom in a constructive manner, and that the Government would like the media to be self-regulated as much as possible.  In this regard, various media organisations have organised a number seminars, while Mr. Ongart Klampaiboon, Minister attached to the Prime Minister’s Office, who is in charge of media issues, and Dr. Yubol Benjarongkij, Dean of the Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University, have been coordinating with them.

Noting the concern in some quarters that the Government might attempt to interfere with the media, Prime Minister Abhisit said that to assure the media, he had met with representatives of the media and various groups to exchange views.  Among the issues discussed were on-going efforts to enact a law to protect the media profession and expedite laws related to the regulation of television and radio, with an independent regulatory body, in accordance with the Constitution, as well as the need for the Government to support the strengthening of media organisations.  There was a convergence of views that a self-regulating body to oversee televisions and radios, in particular, had to be strengthened as it might not have enough experience while having to cope with a rapidly changing environment. Here, civil society organisations (CSO) could contribute to media reform.  For instances, CSO could play a role in monitoring whether the media provided fair access to all sides or presented inappropriate contents.  This should also be strengthened.  In this regard, the Prime Minister said that the Office of the Health Promotion Fund, which had already been providing support for such a role by CSO or other independent agencies – rather than the Government – should play a greater part on this as well as in working with other organisations concerned.  There also needs to be closer coordination with the National Telecommunications Commission as well as the succeeding National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission to be established.

Prime Minister Abhisit further noted the need to find a more balanced approach for certain types of media, such as the Internet, saying that there had been complaints, on the one hand, that it had at times been inappropriately utilised and, on the other, that the authorities’ measures with regard to the Internet sometimes appeared rather excessive, such as the blocking of access to an entire website when problems occurred due to comments on certain web boards.  To address this problem, a number of laws may have to be amended – be they the law on public information to allow greater access by the media or those related to libel and computer crimes.

As for state media, the Prime Minister said that these would also need to be reformed.  In this regard, the Minister Ongart would be working towards opening space to ensure greater variety.  In particular, with regard to Channel 11 or NBT, effort would be made so as to have programmes where both the Government and the opposition could jointly express their views, thereby serving as fora that reflect the spirit of democracy.

Surveillance is good for you!

http://www.2bangkok.com/

(Photo: 2Bangkok.com)

Above: The billboard reads: Your safety is under our watch – increasing close circuit cameras by more than 20,000 – Number 1 policy of safety of the Bangkok Governor M.L. Sukhumbhand Paribatra – The whole life, we care

AMARC calls to End Harassment of Community Radios in Thailand

World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters: July 22, 2010

The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, AMARC, is deeply concerned by the reports about the restrictions imposed on community radio stations in Thailand including the closure of several stations. Recent reports state that using the emergency decree, authorities have shut down 26 community-radio stations in nine provinces and pressured six others to discontinue their services, and as many as 84 community-radio stations have been blacklisted and their activities closely monitored. It is

further reported that at least 35 people related to these media outlets – like radio hosts, station chiefs and executives – are facing legal action for allegedly mobilising their listeners to the red-shirt rally in Bangkok, for broadcasting what was going on at the rally site and for distorting information. “However, there are no clear details to substantiate these charges,” said the Campaign for Popular Media Reform (CPMR) secretary-general Suthep Wilailert. He was reported to be speaking at a seminar about the fate of community radio stations under the state of emergency.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

As an advocate of fundamental human rights including the right to communication and information, and as the global network of community broadcasters, AMARC calls upon the Government of Thailand to ensure that community broadcasters are not harassed for the political views they hold. “Community radio stations speak on behalf of the people of the community and it is wrong to execute the messenger. I appeal to the Government  of Thailand and the concerned authorities to not to arbitrarily oppress community broadcasters under any pretext,” said Imam Prakoso, Vice President for South East Asia in the AMARC Asia Pacific Regional Board. Expressing concerns over the closure of the stations and legal actions underway against community broadcasters, he has

called to uphold the internationally accepted rights of community radio stations to freely and independently broadcast views on political, social, and economical, as well as all other issues that concern the lives of the communities that the stations serve.

As the world’s biggest broadcasting movement with more than 5,000 member community broadcasting stations and advocates worldwide, AMARC believes that democracy and social justice is only achievable when there is a free press.

About AMARC:

AMARC is an international non-governmental organization serving the community radio movement in over 110 countries, and advocating for the right to communicate at the international, national, local and neighborhood levels.

AMARC has an International Secretariat in Montreal. It has regional sections in Africa, Latin America and Asia Pacific and offices in Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Brussels, and Kathmandu. For more information, please contact Suman Basnet, Regional Coordinator for Asia-Pacific, suman_basnet@asiapacific.amarc.org or visit www.asiapacific.amarc.org.

SYMPOSIUM

Experts warn of govt “intimidation” of Internet users

Pravit Rojanaphruk

The Nation: July 22, 2010

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/home/2010/07/22/politics/Experts-warn-of-govt-%22intimidation%22-of-I-30134319.html

The government’s Internet censorship road is a slippery one and people should not leave officials to do what they want, as they may belatedly discover them trying to “censor everything we want to talk about,” warned executive director of Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa) Roby Alampay.

Speaking at a symposium to mark the third anniversary of the Computer Crime Act, Alampay said respect for other people’s opinions should be taught at grade school level instead of having the government decide what to censor.

“I would not leave the question of censorship to government,” he said, adding the Thai government has been using the law to “intimidate” those engaging in sensitive political discussion – especially on the issue of the monarchy institution. People are being made to recognise that visiting some websites or chatrooms is “at [their] own risk.”

The Internet is where “the government sets the limits on what people can talk about,” argued Alampay. But the shutting down of some websites might lead to the radicalisation of political posters. Some may simply give up, but others will be forced to migrate elsewhere online or further underground.

A clear example is the decision by non-profit prachatai.com on-line newspaper to close its political web board by the end of this month, after its board manager Chiranuch Premchaiporn was charged under computer crime law for allegedly allowing 10 different postings of material deemed as lese majeste. She faces a potential 50 year maximum prison term as a result.

An individual who posted a message was also charged and Chiranuch, who spoke at the symposium yesterday, said the decision to shut down the web board came after staff at prachatai.com concluded they could not protect posters any more.

“Since we can’t pass on the responsibility to anyone else we decided to shut it down because we do not want to pretend freedom of expression exists now. So we decided to announce there is no freedom of expression on such a forum,” Chiranuch told the gathering.

She warned however more secretive and underground splinter web boards could result and “may not be good for democracy.”

The Computer Crime Act is the single most controversial piece of legislation affecting freedom of expression since its enforcement in July 2007, wrote Sinfah Tunsawawuth and Toby Mendel in a paper analysing the law. It was presented by Sinfah, an independent media lawyer.

The paper stated that lese majeste has been “the single offence most frequently applied by the Thai authorities against Internet users and ISPs under the Computer Crime Act”. Sinfah acknowledged yesterday however that the current emergency decree imposed by the government in Bangkok and 15 other provinces for the past three months had led to censorship that makes the computer crime law pale by comparison.

“They don’t need a computer crime act now,” Sinfah said.

Independent academic Sarinee Achawanantakul said Thai society should weigh the cost of growing censorship which she believes carries a high cost to society.

“In the case of prachatai.com, the situation won’t be helpful [to society]… If [the government] says they do not want political division they should ask how censorship will really help. Will it in fact lead to making more people angry and hateful?”

The symposium was organised by Seapa, Netizen Group and the Campaign for Popular Media Reform and supported by the Heinrich Boll Foundation and the Media Legal Defense Initiative.

THAILAND: Web board shutdown indicates shut down of free speech

Asian Human Rights Commission: July 8, 2010

http://www.ahrchk.net

The decision of an independent online news site to shut down its web board is indicative of the shut down of free speech in Thailand under the ongoing state of emergency, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said on Thursday.

In an announcement posted on its website, www.prachatai.com, Prachatai said that as the government was hunting for people making comments online, it had decided to close the web board for the safety of users.

“The media and posters alike face the threat of sweeping accusations that they are a ‘threat to national security’ through the use of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, the Emergency Decree and Section 112 of the Criminal Code,” the Bangkok-based news group said.

“The tracking and hunting down of people who post comments in the webboard seems to be no problem at all for the authorities who do not even have to obtain any information from Prachatai,” it added.

“With limited protection and no guarantee of safety for anyone who uses the webboard, the Prachatai team has to come to this conclusion” to close the board, it announced.

AHRC director, Basil Fernando, said that the closure of the webboard spoke to the extent to which nobody in Thailand had the right to speak freely any longer.

“Under the former government of Thaksin Shinawatra, people speaking out about human rights and politics were intimidated, and there was a degree of self-censorship in the mainstream media, but nothing like what we have seen since the 2006 coup,” Fernando said.

“The latest round of outright repression under the emergency decree, which has just been reimposed across much of the country, is akin to that of a military dictatorship,” he said.

“Internet chat boards are among the few places that people feel that they can still get things off their chests, so if Prachatai has decided to pull the plug on comment because it’s afraid of the consequences, then the situation in Thailand is very grim indeed,” the Hong Kong-based rights group director added.

Prachatai’s director, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, is already facing a raft of charges under the 2007 Computer Crime Act for failing to remove quickly enough comments from the web board that the police allege were offensive to the monarchy. Section 112 of the Criminal Code also punishes insults to the royal family with up to 15 years in prison.

In recent months the site has had to shift its online addresses and take other steps to get around Internet censorship. The authorities named it on a list of websites to be targeted under the emergency regulations imposed in response to anti-government protests.

Aside from websites, anti-government broadcasters and publications have also been shut down in recent months, including a television station, five serials and some 20 radio stations.

On July 6, the prime minister and cabinet decided to renew the Emergency Decree in 19 provinces, including Bangkok, for a further 90 days.

“The state of emergency has been extended even though there are no more conditions in Thailand to warrant it, in clear violation of international law,” AHRC director Fernando said.

“Obviously, the purpose of the continued use of this emergency law is nothing other than to repress government opponents from outside of a rule-of-law framework,” he added.

“The consequences will be very bad for Thailand, as there will only be an increase in legitimate anger at the unelected government and a further decline in legitimacy for the country’s key institutions, including its courts,” he noted.

[FACT comments: FACT calls for the Computer Crimes Act 2007 to be revoked in its entirety. Govt has failed to demonstrate the CCA has done anything useful for Thai society.]

Activists call for review of Computer Crime Act

The Computer Crime Act is being applied too broadly and as a tool to target political dissidents, posing a potential challenge to the government’s reconciliation efforts, a forum has been told.

At a seminar yesterday marking the third anniversary of the introduction of the law, media freedom advocates, political analysts and journalists called for a review of the act to avoid further political conflict.

The Computer Crime Act is used mostly against red shirt supporters or their sympathisers, which is unfair, media reform activist Supinya Klangnarong said.

Thailand’s record on internet censorship is worse than China’s, she said. The communist country may be much stricter when it comes to censorship but, unlike Thailand, it applies the same standard to all.

The government should review the way it applies the law or its political critics will feel bitter, and national reconciliation will be that much harder to attain, she said.

Thousands of websites and webboards with pro-United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship leanings have been closed down. Censorship reached a peak during the red shirt rallies from March to May.

But the same level of censorship is rarely applied to websites supporting the UDD’s rival, the People’s Alliance for Democracy, she said.

Some Thais have been jailed after they posted messages deemed a breach of the law on social network websites such as Facebook and YouTube.

Violation of the lese majeste law under the Criminal Code is also linked to the application of the act.

Suranand Vejjajiva, a minister in the Thaksin Shinawatra government, said the act’s definition of national security is too broad, which reflects the nature of the state’s need to exercise power.

The state seeks control rather than merely maintaining security, he said.

The country’s internet censorship reminds him of the way newspapers were threatened and closed under the now-revoked Printing Act, he said.

The former minister suggested that punishment for criminal offences of certain kinds must be subject to other laws governing those issues, not just the security clause under this act.

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