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    Freedom of expression

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    WTF

    Posts : 163
    Join date : 2010-08-06
    Location : Thailand

    Freedom of expression

    Post by WTF on 19th December 2010, 9:41 am

    Thailand's Oceania moment
    The government has promised to lift the state of emergency before year's end, but it's not known if that will reverse its Orwellian attack on freedom of expression online

    In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Ministry of Truth , or "minitrue", freely rewrites history to satisfy the Party doctrine and propaganda. It exercises strict control over the media, all forms of entertainment, education, literature and anything else that might present an alternative viewpoint. Life in Oceania is full of spying and distrust, and posters of the Party leader bearing the message "Big Brother is Watching You", can be seen everywhere, along with mechanisms such as "telescreens" to monitor the public and private lives of the populace.


    In 2010 in Thailand, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Ministry, in conjunction with the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES), has been enforcing the 2007 Computer Crime Act (CCA) to block thousands of websites.

    The CRES, which came into being after the 2005 state of emergency decree was put into effect throughout most of the country in early April in response to the red shirt demonstrations in Bangkok, also exercises its power to control media such as community radio, newspapers and television.

    According to a study from the iLaw Project titled, ''Situation Report on Control and Censorship of Online Media, through the Use of Laws and the Imposition of Thai State Policies'', the ICT ministry has filed charges against 185 individuals in relation to the CCA and there have been 117 court orders to block access to 74,686 URLs. On average, 690 URLs are blocked daily.

    The 185 offences people have been arrested for under the CCA can be put into two major categories: legal cases related to computer systems, such as unauthorised access to computer systems, conducting fraud using a computer system, and dissemination of unlawful computer programmes; and the use of content as a basis to consider legal offences such as defamation, fraud and lese majeste against individuals or institutions.

    Of the 185 cases, 54 involve defamation of third parties, 38 involve fraudulent content and 31 involve lese majeste (see graphic I). Thammasat University Law lecturer Sawatree Suksri, who headed the study, pointed out that a high proportion of the offences are related to content, and said this reflects on freedom of expression in society. She added that the courts have been quick to process these cases.

    According to the study, there are a number of ruling cases that based on the different content; national security is one among them. (See graphic II) (I don't understand this) .

    ''Within the legal framework of the CCA, there is the problem of vague wording,'' reads the report. ''Therefore it could be said that in a large number of cases the CCA has been used as a political weapon to attack opponents.''

    The CCA allows for broad legal interpretation, and that is why sometimes, some law enforcers use it in a confusing manner, said the research director. She added that this has a major effect on online communications in the country.

    Ms Sawatree said that when asked, no state agencies would provide reasons for blocking particular websites. Sawatree ''No government agency had been tasked with documenting or creating a database on cases of blocked websites and making this information available to the public,'' she said, adding that her official requests were greeted with vague and unofficial justifications such as ''structural changes in the organisation'', ''new officials tasked to monitor the information who were not yet familiar with the system'', ''case data not available in digital form'', ''relevant official was transferred taking the information with them'', and ''no documentation of computer-related cases''.

    The study analysis noted that the offences related to national security are stipulated in the Computer Crime Act, Section 14 (2), on importing false data that damages national security, and Section 14 (3), on offences related to terrorism (see box). Offences related to lese majeste are often brought under these sections. However, 25 of the 31 lese majeste cases were also brought under Section 112 of the Criminal Code.

    It is obvious that the Thai government places great importance in guarding against lease majeste, but many feel the highly sensitive issue has been used as a means to muzzle the media, online communicators and, in general. all individuals who think differently from the government.

    It's not quite Oceania in 1984, but in the year 2010 Thailand looks to be becoming less free. Reporters San Frontieres ranked Thailand 153 out of 178 in terms of freedom of expression in its 2010 World Press Freedom Index, just above Burma at 174. North Korea came in at 177. Even after the 2006 military coup in Thailand, Thailand was ranked at 122.

    This year, ''Big Brother'' has assigned agencies to scrutinise the behaviour and opinions of Thai people using new media sources such as social networks like Facebook and Twitter which have become hugely popular.

    According to the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (NECTEC), as of Aug 18, 2010, there were 21.14 millions internet users in Thailand, 15. 52% more than at the same time last year (about 18.3 million). As of Nov 29, Thailand had 6.57 million of Facebook users, as compared to 1.96 million in November 2009.

    Many of those using social media may not be responsible in their online posts, but often it is the websites' providers who take the heat. A case in point is Prachatai News online, which has a popular web forum.

    Prachatai News online manager Jiranute Permchaiporn has been arrested twice under the Computer Crime Act and could face up to 70 years in jail, although she was not the one who posted the messages that were deemed offensive. She said the attack on social media is an attempt to undermine freedom of expression. ''Many authorities abuse the laws. I think it would be is better to have clear social and legal mechanisms to control the use of social network,'' she said.

    Social network has been instrumental in giving out facts and information in real time, for example the pictures and messages that were posted during the peak of the political turmoil in Bangkok in April and May. Many in the ''red camp'' felt they were being ignored by the mainstream media during such the conflict, but through various social forums they were able to give their side of the story in those critical days.

    ''I don't want to listen to, watch or read one-sided information that the government presents to portray red shirt people. Through social networks we could at least to send out pictures and information on things like who really occupied CentralWorld after the protest was raided on May 19,'' said a young red shirt leader.

    On the other side, the group SS (formerly known as Social Sanction), a network of internet users with pages on different social websites including Facebook and Twitter, has been actively involved in tracking down people who they believe are guilty of disseminating information that constitutes lese majeste.

    The Thammasat report says of SS: ''They then condemn and vilify these individuals in public and search for private information on those individuals which they further disseminate to the public.''

    This is known among social networkers as a ''witch hunt''. A student who posted a message in late April on her Facebook page had her message publicised and she was denigrated for allegedly insulting the royal institution. SS members searched for her personal information, which was later used by the Department of Special Investigation to arrest her for lese majeste.

    The right of the people to access news and information was acknowledged by the drafters of the CCA, the expectation being that the courts would play a necessary role in checking and balancing the power of state officials. Section 20 of the CCA states that relevant officials may file a petition together with evidence to the court to obtain an order to halt the dissemination of computer information, as opposed to the officials blocking the websites immediately, as was the earlier practice. The officials are also authorised to use other methods to remove web content considered objectionable, for example, sending informal letters to internet providers asking for cooperation.

    Under the power of the emergency decree, the CRES has dispensed with the legal niceties and blocked thousands of websites swiftly and without appeal.

    ''There are many cases where the CRES has ordered the closure of websites and cited a range of IP addresses. Such actions will affect a large number of websites, including those that are lawful but happen to be in the range of the ban,'' said Ms Sawatree, raising the example of Prachatai, which in addition to its web forum also operates as a news organisation.

    ''The questionable messages were posted on the webboard, but the online news was also blocked. This undermine the right of the people to information,'' said the law lecturer.

    Apart from blocking websites and prosecuting certain internet users and service providers, the government also set up ''Cyber Scout'' units through a memorandum of understanding between the ministries of Information and Communication Technology, Justice and Culture to monitor the internet, and inform relevant agencies about inappropriate content. The military also has special units to counter content deemed critical of the monarchy, such as the Network of the Navy Quartermaster to Promote and Protect the Monarchy on the Internet.

    The unprecedented advances in information technology worldwide have created an urgent need to find a balance between protecting freedom of expression and social interests and national security.

    National Human Right Commissioner Nirun Pitakwatchara said people should contemplate whose security these laws are trying to protect.

    ''Is it the security of the rulers or the security of the nation?'' he asked, adding that if the government is sincere and operates with transparency, it has nothing to fear.

    Supinya Klangnarong, from the Thai Netizen Network, called on the government to protect the rights and freedoms of internet users, and treat intermediaries such as Prachatai as a part of the fundamental infrastructure that can which could benefits activities on the internet.

    She recommended that the government form a multi-party committee representing the diverse group of internet stake holders in order to reform sections 14, 15 and 20 of the CCA.

    ''We believe that that internet, and all media, are spaces for exchanging information and are for peaceful political battles. If the state tries to block or shut down these spaces, people would have no room to exchange ideas openly and the conflicts in society could not be reduced,'' she said.

    In 2010 the Thai people should not have to blindly follow where the government leads. An orderly society need not come at the cost of freedom of expression.

    LAWS ON EXPRESSION
    BE 2550 (2007) Constitution

    Article 45: A person shall enjoy the liberty to express his opinion, make speeches, write, print, publicise, and express himself by other means.

    The restriction on liberty under paragraph one shall not be imposed except by virtue of the law specifically enacted for the purpose of maintaining the security of the state, protecting rights, liberties, dignity, reputation, family or privacy rights of other persons, maintaining public order or good morals or preventing or halting the deterioration of the minds or health of the public.

    The prevention of a newspaper or other mass media sources from printing news or expressing opinions, wholly or partly, or interference in any manner whatsoever in deprivation of the liberty under this article shall not be made except by the provisions of the law.

    BE 2550 (2007) Commuter Crime Act

    Section 14. Any person committing any offence involving the following acts shall be subject to imprisonment of not more than five years or a fine of not more than one hundred thousand baht, or both:

    (2) import to a computer system of false computer data in a manner that is likely to damage the country's security or cause a public panic;

    (3) import to a computer system of any computer data related to an offence against the Kingdom's security under the Criminal Code;

    (4) import to a computer system of any computer data of a pornographic nature that is publicly accessible;

    Section 15. Any service provider intentionally supporting or consenting to an offence under Section 14 within a computer system under their control shall be subject to the same penalty as that imposed upon a person committing an offence under Section 14.

    Section 20. If an offence under this act disseminates computer data that might have an impact on the Kingdom's security as stipulated in Division 2, type 1 or type 1/1, of the Criminal Code, or that might be deleterious to the peace and accord or good morals of the people, the competent official appointed by the minister may file a petition together with the evidence to a court with jurisdiction to restrain the dissemination of such computer data.

    BE 2499 (1956) Criminal Code

    Section 112: Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.

      Current date/time is 24th October 2018, 4:03 am