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Information Ministry orders temporary closure of two websites critical of the government

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Thailand's cyber policing agency, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MICT), has ordered a temporary closure of two websites whose contents the ministry deemed highly critical of the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

One website, http://www.thai-insider.com, is run by businessman-cum anti-corruption crusader Ekkayuth Anchanbutr, who has accused the administration of endemic corruption, including involvement in a stock price manipulation. The other, http://www.fm9225.com, is run by Anchalee Paireerat, executive director of community radio station FM92, which was recently pressured to close down because of its critical views on the government.

Ekkayuth and Anchalee vowed to challenge the decision and get their websites back in operation. They said they were considering taking legal action against the ministry for violating their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and access to information.

The MICT instructed the two sites' Internet service providers to take them off cyberspace on 18 June 2005. However, the ministry denied that the move was politically motivated, according to 22 June reports in the national English-language dailies "The Nation" and "The Bangkok Post".

The ministry said the websites were closed because they did not properly register the real names of the owners and that some of the content was defamatory and posed a threat to national security and public order. The closure order will remain in effect until the actual owners come forward to take responsibility, it added.

A source at the Thai Webmaster Association said the argument that the closure was linked to improper registration did not "hold water" as there are thousands of websites that operate without registering the real owners' names.

According to the source, the MICT should have sought the association's intervention instead of closing the two websites, as the webmasters' group has a code of ethics governing website operators.

There is no specific law governing the Internet in Thailand. 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.

In the past, authorities have closed down websites that posted pornography and contained violent language they said was detrimental to national security. This is the first time websites critical of the government have been targeted.

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