23 June 2005
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), the region’s leading press freedom and free expression defender, today expressed grave concern over the shutdown by Thailand’s cyber policing agency of two websites critical of the government, which if left unchallenged, it said, could lead to a crackdown on websites carrying any information unpalatable to the government.
SEAPA believes the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology’s 18 June order to remove the two websites from cyberspace violates the people’s freedom of expression and undermines media independence, as guaranteed under the Article 39 and Article 41 of the Constitution.
“In the absence of a specific law to govern cyber information and content , the vaguely-defined authority given to the ministry could be abused by the administration to quell critical voices in the society. The policing of cyberspace with political motives will have a chilling effect on Thailand’s increasingly vibrant Internet sector, which is a vital tool for the country’s economic and social advancement.” said SEAPA.
Meanwhile, an opposition MP from the Democrat Party, Apichart Sakdisetas, said during a parliamentary session on 23 June the MICT order was tantamount to controlling the media and was certainly beyond its jurisdiction as its main function is to police pornographic websites, according an online report of “Kom Chat Leuk”, a local daily.
In response, ICT Minister Suwit Khunkitti defended the move as legal and non-discriminatory and said MICT’s cyber inspection division is duty-bound to police websites to ensure that their content do not go against public order and to protect parties affected by the websites’ harmful content.
The ministry insists that the websites it had ordered closed, http://www.thai-insider.com and http://www.fm9225.com, carried reports and information that posed a threat to national security, contained defamatory remarks and used language that incite public unrest. It said the websites were also registered without the real names of the owners.
Under MICT regulations, cyber inspectors are authorised to arrest hackers and suspend webboards and websites that contain material deemed morally indecent, undermine the royal institution, or contain material that is defamatory and detrimental to national security.
The operators of the websites are known critics of Prime Ministerr Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration. One is businessman-cum anti-corruption crusader Ekkayuth Anchanbutr, who has accused the administration of endemic corruption, including involvement in a stock price manipulation. The other is Anchalee Paireerat, executive director and political commentator of community radio station FM92, which was recently pressured to close down because of its critical views on the government.
SEAPA urges MICT to recall its order and allow the websites back in operation. “Any misconduct by the websites should be dealt with by a self-regulatory body like the Thai Webmasters Association,” it said.