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Government uses state of emergency to escalate censorship

Government uses state of emergency to escalate censorship

Published on Thursday 8 April 2010.
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The Thai government has censored dozens of websites and a TV station under article 9 of yesterday’s state of emergency, which forbids the “dissemination of information liable to disturb public order.” Most of the media affected are linked to the opposition “Red Shirts” movement but some, such as the website Prachatai, are independent.

“We firmly condemn any use of news media to call for violence, but it is deplorable that the authorities are using the state of emergency to censor neutral or opposition news outlets,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to order the restoration of the censored websites without delay and to close news media only when calls for violence are verified and following standard legal procedures.”

“Why should Thais be prevented from listening to the opposition?” Reporters Without Borders added. “There is a risk that the bans and censorship could radicalise the Red Shirts. It is a dangerous gamble. We appeal to those in charge of media linked to the Red Shirts to reject any call for violence. If they do, the government will have to refrain from censoring them.”

The government blocked at least 36 websites under the state or emergency yesterday including Prachatai (www.prachatai.com), Sameskybooks (www.sameskybooks.org), Norporchorusa (www.norporchorusa.com) and Weareallhuman (www.weareallhuman.net). According to representatives of the INET server, the order came from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies (MICT).

The list of censored site was confirmed by Suthep Thaugsuban, the deputy prime minister for security affairs, who has been put in charge of a Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation. Any attempt to access the sites from within Thailand yields the message “This website has been blocked by ICT & TOT.”

Prachatai is an independent news website. Sameskybooks is linked to the political magazine Fah Diew Kan (a Thai version of Le Monde Diplomatique), which has often criticised the controversial lèse majesté law. Norporchorusa is directly linked to the Red Shirts. Its webmaster was arrested last week.

The prime minister’s spokesman, Satit Wongnongtoey, confirmed today that PTV (also known as People Channel), a satellite TV station linked to the Red Shirts, has been closed under the state of emergency. Soldiers raided Thaicom headquarters in Bangkok to ensure that its signal had been disconnected. PTV had been broadcasting calls for anti-government protests for weeks.

“It was hard for the government to cut PTV’s signal because it uses various means of transmission including two satellites,” Satit said. “We worked all night.” Satit also warned that, under the state of emergency, Internet Service Providers and media “could be punished if they relay censored media.”

In reprisal for the censorship of PTV, the Red Shirts threatened today to demonstration outside ASTV, a station linked to the pro-government Yellow Shirts.

Proclaimed for an indefinite period, the state of emergency applies to Bangkok and five neighbouring provinces.

A case of violence against media personnel has also been reported. The vehicle of an employee of the Matichon daily newspaper was set alight by a petrol bomb thrown by two unidentified individuals on 2 April.

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