Silent nights…

December 22, 2014

FullSizeRender-4Free Speech Xmas card

[Graduate School of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley]

2012 in review

January 1, 2013

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 160,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Happy Halloween!

Thailand’s first blocklist was created by the Ministry of Information and Communication [sic] Technology in January 2004 during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration. It blocked 1,247 URLs by name.

Thailand’s first blocklist marked the first and only attempt at transparency by Thailand’s Internet censors. Every subsequent blocklist, the webpages blocked, the reasons for blocking and even the number of pages blocked is held in secret by Thai government.

Thailand’s first blocklist concentrated on the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), a banned group of separatists from Thailand’s deep Muslim south. In subsequent years, we’ve seen how well that censorship strategy worked out. It created an enormous militant insurgency which has resulted in more than 5,000 murders.

Following Thailand’s military coup d’etat on September 19, 2006, the military’s fifth official order on its first day in power was to block the Internet. Under the coup regime, tens of thousands of webpages were blocked.

Most famously, Thailand ramped up its censorship with a complete block of popular video sharing site, YouTube, for seven months in 2007. It appeared Thai censors didn’t have the capacity to block individual videos.

Thailand was the first country to block YouTube, claiming a handful juvenile videos insulting Thailand’s monarchy were a ‘threat to national security’. Following this stand-off, Google, YouTube’s parent company, created a system of geolocational blocking which is now used to block YouTube videos in dozens of repressive regimes.

However, the coup government’s first legislative action was to promulgate the Computer Crimes Act 2007. In its first drafts, the CCA prescribed the death penalty for computer crimes; this was modified in the final law to ‘only’ 20 years in prison.

The CCA contains full censorship powers but also a provision that MICT must seek court orders for blocking. Revealing these court orders would also make blocking information public so all the court orders, paid for by Thai taxpayers, are sealed in secrecy.

An appointed Democrat administration followed the military junta. However, when mass demonstrations in 2010 threatened its power, the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration declared martial law decreeing a state of emergency. The Emergency Decree suspended all normal rule of law, as well as constitutional and international treaty protections for freedom of expression.

The Dems created two military agencies with Orwellian names and even acronyms. The Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES) and the Centre for the Administration of Public Order (CAPO) were given complete extralegal power to censor the Internet.

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) was just one website to be censored early by the ‘emergency’.

FACT continues to publish leaked blocklists and court orders as well as providing instructions for circumvention of Thai censorship to readers. FACT teaches its readers how to pressure ISPs and govt censors to unblock URLs. FACT has also published censorship blocklists from 16 foreign countries.

However, research by Thailand’s iLaw Foundation revealed that MICT had quietly continued to use the CCA’s provisions for blocking the Internet using court orders. Thai government was ‘legally’ blocking webpages on a wholesale basis, submitting for court order thousands of URLs each time.

The new elected opposition government has continued the folly of its predecessors. It was further revealed that Thai government censorship was rising at a rate of 690 new pages blocked every single day.

Other than court-ordered censorship, Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act has only served one further purpose. Many of Thailand’s scores of political prisoners have been charged with lèse majesté using the CCA.

This has resulted in prison sentences up to 15 years using multiple charges. Charges have not only been brought against content creators but content providers, page designers, webmasters and other intermediaries, including those overseas who dared to visit ‘the land of smiles’.

Furthermore, Thai judges have decreed that hyperlinking to ‘offensive’ or ‘inappropriate’ content is just as criminal as publishing it. Unspecified delay in removing such commentary is also illegal. And so is clicking ‘Like’ on Facebook.

Thailand’s censorship has shown no signs of abating and almost none of the webpages blocked during the ‘emergency’ have been unblocked. In 2012, more than 90,000 Facebook pages were blocked. So are online pharmacies and gambling sites.

Many observers think Thai government censorship solely targets alleged lèse majesté. However, the fact is, we are not allowed the freedom of expression about anything guaranteed by our Constitution.

Meanwhile, Thai censorship that we know about continues to rise at a rate of 690 new blocked URLs every day. In fact, with complete secrecy by Thai censors, the real number is likely to be far higher.

The cost to society by creating a dumbed-down public not in possession of all the facts is impossible to quantify. The economic costs, however, can be. To block 690 web pages, Thai government spends THB 1.5 million (USD $50,000), or THB 2,174 (USD $71) per URL.

To date, Thailand has spent THB 2,173,913,043—more than two billion baht—(almost USD $71 million) to censor our Internet.

On December 28, 2011, Thailand was blocking 777,286 webpages. Today, November 1, 2012, Thailand blocks ONE MILLION URLs—Happy Halloween.





CJ Hinke

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)

Bangkok: October 31, 2555




Tessa Houghton

Global Voices: July 18, 2012


The Malaysian social and alternative media sphere is describing an impending ‘National Harmony Act,’ as “Orwellian” and “draconian.”

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak announced that Malaysia’s Sedition Act of 1948 is to be repealed, and replaced with the National Harmony Act (NHA.)

The Sedition Act, a hangover from Malaysia’s era of colonial rule, was originally introduced to quell opposition against the British, but is infamous for its vague definitions and use by the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition to silence political opposition.

Rather than celebration, there is widespread concern that the new National Harmony Act will not prove any better than its predecessor. Barisan Nasional has dismantled several existing laws only to replace them with barely improved or even worse versions. For example the Internal Security Act, the Peaceful Assembly Act and the Evidence Act amendments.

Many Malaysian netizens are concerned that the NHA is yet another example of double-talk.

Mustafa K. Anuar, writing for Aliran describes it as a ‘Seduction Act in the offing’, identifying the widespread cynicism towards the new Act as predictable:

In the recent past, the promise of a repeal of certain undemocratic laws such as the equally draconian Internal Security Act turned out to be a nightmare for Malaysians, especially human rights activists, as the replacements are either the same or even worse than the laws they replaced.


A political cartoon by well-known Malaysian cartoonist Zunar, depicting what many Malaysians fear from the planned National Harmony Act. [Zunar Kartunis Fan Club’ Facebook page]

Phil Robertson, the deputy director Human Rights Watch’s Asia division,  also summed up this worrying legislative trend in the alternative media website The Malaysian Insider:

He said “the government should realise that change for change’s sake is not enough”, adding that the drafting of replacement laws “has gone on behind closed doors with little input from civil society.”

As reported by Malaysiakini (paywall-protected site), Catholic Bishop Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing (as well as Lim Chee Wee, head of the Malaysian Bar Council) has suggested that the government should just repeal the Sedition Act, rather than replace it with more legislation prone to selective enforcement:

“We have seen a politician or two and some religious leaders raise the bogey of Christian proselytisation of Muslims and proffer no substantive proof in support and yet they have not been hauled up for seditious speech.

“Don’t replace obsolete laws with newfangled ones, especially if you cannot be counted on to enforce them with equity,” he contended.

Commenters on the Malaysiakini article seem to agree:

Hang Babeuf: Of course, the National Harmony Act provokes scepticism. Just look at the name.

Absalom: If you want national harmony, you don’t need an Act, for that’s all it is, an act.

Ez24get: National Harmony Act – harmony for whom? Harmony for the corrupt BN as nobody could question or take away their gravy train?

Similar sentiments are expressed in yet another Malaysiakini commenter round-up:

Kee Thuan Chye: The Sedition Act should be repealed, not put into a new wine bottle with a nicer-sounding name. A repressive law by any other name still stinks just as bad.

Abasir: Deja vu! We’ve been here before. Remember how he introduced the so-called Peaceful Assembly Act following which a well-publicised peaceful assembly of citizens was deliberately trapped, gassed, beaten by gangs of unnamed men in uniform and thugs in mufti?

Kgen: Knowing Najib, the false democrat, the new Act will be even worse than the old Act. Just like the Peaceful Assembly Act, which is even harsher than the existing Police Act.

However, PM Najib Razak claims that the Act will “ensure the best balance between the need to guarantee the freedom of speech for every citizen and the need to handle the complexity of plurality existing in the country”, as reported by the state news agency Bernama:

”With this new act we would be better equipped to manage our national fault lines. It will also help to strengthen national cohesion by protecting national unity and nurturing religious harmony… and mutual respect in the Malaysian society made up of various races and religions.”

Najib also stated that the government wants to invite views and opinions from Malaysian individuals and organisations on the legislation, naming the Attorney-General’s Chambers as the agency responsible for consulting with such stakeholders.

Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, a minister in the Prime Minister’s department, stated that unlike the to-be-repealed Sedition Act, the NHA will allow for criticism of the Malaysian government:

There should be no absolute freedom to the extent we can call people pariah, pimps and so on.It is [obvious] we want to protect the Institution of the Malay Rulers. They are above politics and this country practises Constitutional Monarchy

According to Mohamed Nazri, the new Act is not expected to be tabled until next year. It is therefore likely that the Sedition Act will remain in place until after the 13th Malaysian General Election, which must be held before March 2013.

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!





Kong Rithdee

Bangkok Post: June 9, 2012

“Cultural Surveillance”: Ladda Tangsupachai

Amidst the ballyhoo of black-screen TV, broadcast-rights rivalry, football fracas, reconciliation war and constitution horror, we return to visit the most beloved media agency of all: the Cultural Surveillance Office, aka the Rottweiler, the guardian of Thainess, or the Department of Propriety.

Last month, the Culture Ministry made a surprising move: they transferred (“promoted”) Ladda Tangsupachai, the controversial head of the surveillance office whose past record inspires shudders among artists, singers, actors, and anyone who dares test the limits of official appropriateness. Ms Ladda’s new post is analyst and supervisor of the southern cultural policy, an appointment that has sparked an impromptu joke about the South bearing the brunt, once again, of Central prejudices and conservatism.

 One of Ms Ladda’s last campaigns was against the fad of planking.

Whether or not there’s a political angle to this move is a moot point, one can never judge the depths of such a labyrinth. Ms Ladda’s latest involvement was to push for the new bill to drum up the funding for “safe and creative media” – a name that evokes either easy optimism or necessary caution, for “safe”, in linguistic cartwheeling can be a euphemism for censorship. The details of the law, which has been proposed to parliament, are not available, but the earlier draft contains a clause that the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission should inject money into the fund which will be distributed to “producers of safe content”, whatever that means. It was widely expected that Ms Ladda, a senior officer, would supervise the funding once the law had been passed. But now, no more.

While parliament, which has recently adopted the lively bar-room brawl and thuggish tournament style, is embroiled in the reconciliation mess, the “safe media” bill is likely to wait. But let’s make sure we keep an eye on it. Not that we don’t want safe TV, but we shouldn’t confuse precaution with prohibition, and protection with moral paranoia.

That last term is what we often attribute to a surveillance agency. Ms Ladda’s transfer ended her long tenure at the cultural watchdog marred by resentment, scandals, and even T-shirts bearing her infamous quote. To be honest, there have been sighs of relief at the news of her move. But to be fair, Ms Ladda, to whom I talked personally on a few occasions, is a steadfast believer in her cause: to protect the nobility of Thai culture and weed out unpleasant surprises, from short skirts to TV bitchfests. She’s a crusader on the eternal horseback to Jerusalem – her war cry is authentic, and her dogmatism is transparent. Her run-ins with the more liberal sections of society illustrate the wider contest to own, or define, the meaning of Thai culture in the 21st century.

It’d take hours to revisit her high-profile outcries at media “indecency’, but here are the two most infamous cases: in 2008, Ms Ladda gave an interview to Time magazine [,9171,1670261,00.html] and described Thai film audiences as “uneducated” and thus needing parenting from the ministry (somebody made T-shirts featuring the quote); then last year, she angered many by speaking out against a hit soap series and the portrayal of its men-lusting female lead, which led to an episode of national hysteria.

Lost in translation: Many Westerners believe their dogs to be enlightened. Ladda banned this image!

Symptomatic though not necessarily emblematic, Ms Ladda is easily villainised, sometimes unfairly. The problem is not her; the problem is the fact that the government blithely believes that something called the Cultural Surveillance Office is even necessary. As if we were a mansion so susceptible to cultural vandalism, or a terminal patient in need of 24-hour vigilance, or an ungodly girl under perpetual threat of demonic possession. The fact that we still need to spend tax money on this agency is an issue worthy of public hearing. And that the government still relies on the watchdog’s (dis) service betrays the feudal mindset that it believes the people are so weak they can’t think for themselves.

Society should be trusted to be its own watchdog. Top-down control isn’t working any more in the new environment of great flux, of rapid advances in technology, and of heady, global interconnectedness that keeps redefining “culture”. Civic bodies, consumers organisations, industry associations – say, TV producers or filmmakers – and the audiences themselves should be encouraged to have the power to control the media’s performance and to decide what’s appropriate and what’s not in an organic way. Governmental parenting is as dated as last week’s football results, and the Culture Ministry is too valuable to spend its time, like East German thought police, carrying out surveillance on the people. It’s a shame that they still don’t realise this at this hour.

Kong Rithdee is Deputy Life Editor, Bangkok Post

An atheist pianist is charged with insulting Islam.

Oray Egin

Newsweek: June 11, 2012 1:00 AM EDT

[Emily Flake]

Fazil Say, a 42-year-old Turkish pianist and composer, was only 17 when he moved to Germany to study music. At 21 he was teaching at the Berlin Academy. His success carried him to New York, where he lived for seven years; during that time he performed with major orchestras like the New York Philharmonic. He eventually moved back to Turkey, “partly because I missed my country, and partly because I wanted to contribute to the art environment there,” he wrote in an email.

Yet he did not find peace at home. Last week the Turkish court accepted an indictment against him for allegations of insulting Islam. About two months ago, the openly atheist Say wrote a tweet mocking the muezzin, a person who leads the call to prayer in a mosque. “The muezzin finished the azan in 22 seconds. What’s the rush? A lover? A raki table?” he asked. He also retweeted a verse attributed to the 11th-century poet Omar Khayyám: “You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern for you? You say two houris await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?”

He no longer tweets and recently disabled his account. “First I have to clear these charges against me. I’ve been libeled,” he says. “I did not insult Islam. I just retweeted a verse that I thought was funny. 165 others retweeted that verse the same night but I am the only one being tried.”

The Say incident did not spark a much-needed freedom-of-expression debate in Turkey due to the systematic disparaging of the pianist by many pro-government commentators. But he received support from international media and pro-secular Turkish columnists, and a Turkish classical-music magazine organized a petition. Say, a persona non grata in the eyes of the followers of the AKP, the hugely popular governing party, is no stranger to isolation in Turkey. In 2007, when the AKP came into power for a second term, he announced his plans to leave the country. AKP officials often target him, and most recently one Parliament member wrote on Twitter: “Which brothel were you born in Say?”

 Fazil Say has got religion!

At the same time, Say is a superstar among secularists in Turkey’s highly polarized environment. In 2010, when his Istanbul Symphony debuted in Istanbul, the crowd cheered him with a 17-minute standing ovation. His political comments and occasional flings with famous women polish his celebrity status, while classical-music experts admire his talent. He tours approximately 250 days of the year. But he did mark on his calendar Oct. 17—the date his trial is to begin—to be in Istanbul.

“Everybody knows that separating musicians from an instrument for more than three-four months will ruin their career,” he says about the possibility of imprisonment. “But I don’t want to think about it now.” Would he consider leaving Turkey again? “I’ve lived abroad for 17 years, and perhaps it’s time to move on,” he responds. “Moving to Tokyo is a possibility, I think living in the Far East will be good for me.”

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Oray Egin is a Turkish journalist based in New York. His latest book was published in April 2011 in Turkey.

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