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Legislative Assembly to extend laws restricting media coverage of royal family, advisors

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

Thailand's Proposed Amendments an Attack on Free Speech

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has strongly condemned plans by the Thai National Legislative Assembly to extend laws that restrict media coverage of cases dealing with the royal family and advisors.

Under these proposed amendments to lese majeste laws, journalists could face three years' imprisonment and be fined 60,000 baht (approximately US$1900) for ignoring a court-ordered publication ban. The law would also be extended to cover criticism of Privy Councillors.

Thai Supreme Court Chief Judge Pornpetch Wichitcholchai confirmed to Reuters that the laws were intended to stop media reports critical of the monarchy reaching the public.

"We don't want any offence to the monarch to be repeated in the news or become an issue of any criticism," Pornpetch said.

Earlier this year the government implemented a ban on the video-sharing website YouTube, which prevented citizens from receiving video clips and reports deemed as insulting to King Bhumibol Aduluadej.

After lifting the ban in August, the government threatened to re-implement it in September after YouTube video clips appeared that accused chief royal advisor Prem Tinsulanonda of masterminding last year's bloodless coup.

Thailand already has extremely tough protection laws for the royal family, with three- to 15-year jail terms for anybody who criticizes or threatens the royal family. One sentenced under these laws is a Swiss man being jailed for 10 years for defacing pictures of the king.

According to IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park, Thailand's lese majeste laws are already amongst the most stringent in the world.

"After last year's coup the government promised a return to democracy within a year," Park said. "A year has passed and the Thai people still await the government to uphold their promise of a democratic future.

"It is unjust for a person to spend 15 years of their life in jail just so that the monarch remains free from criticism."

The IFJ urges Thailand's Parliament to prevent the strengthening of these undemocratic laws when they discuss the issue.

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries.

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