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Government suspends online forum, orders two other websites to monitor content, over alleged "national security" concerns

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The suspension of a popular online forum in Thailand raises the alarm for a deteriorating environment for free expression in the country.

SEAPA condemns the government order shutting down the political chat room on Pantip.com ( http://www.pantip.com ), and again calls on the Thai government to respect and preserve the integrity of the Internet as a medium for independent and alternative voices in the kingdom.

While Pantip.com remains online, on 8 April 2007 its "Ratchadamnoen" chat room, dedicated to political discussions, was ordered shut down by the government for the sake of "national security".

Information and Communications Technology Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom told the media that the chat room has, in recent days, been "flooded with posts compromising national security".

Pantip.com founder Wanchat Padungrat was quoted in newspapers lamenting that the government "does not specify which topics" are harmful to security.

Two other popular websites, Prachatai.com ( http://www.prachatai.com ) and mthai.com ( http://www.mthai.com ), have been asked by Thailand's military government to "monitor" their political web boards for postings that might violate national security and "lèse majesté" laws.

By depriving the people of an important medium for free expression and access to information, Thailand's military rulers - who toppled the government of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in September 2006 - are straying from their pledge to return Thailand to democracy.

SEAPA is also concerned that Thailand's rulers are broadening their definition of what kinds of online content they will not tolerate. In the days immediately following the coup, the junta had warned Thais to desist from commentary that might be deemed insulting to the monarchy. In the first week of April 2007, the government banned the website YouTube in Thailand, in reaction to a video that mocked the highly revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej (see IFEX alert of 4 April 2007).

In recent days, however, the government has explicitly warned against political content in the name of "national security" or for the sake of countering "divisive messages". Such broad and vague terms, SEAPA warns, will inevitably widen the area of public discussion that the government will police, to the detriment of free expression.

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