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CAPSULE REPORT: New citizens group to lobby for amendments to Computer-Related Crime Bill, promote self-regulation as a way to protect cyber liberty

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of a 9 December 2008 SEAPA report:

Self-regulation seen as better way to protect cyber liberty in Thailand

Excessive use of defamation and lese majeste charges by opposing political groups and authorities in Thailand to curb free expression on the Internet has forced a coalition of Internet users comprising media reformers, human rights campaigners, webmasters, bloggers and operators of online news publications, to form a civic network called the Thai Netizens Network, designed to promote and protect cyber liberty.

The non-partisan group, officially launched on December 2, was a spin-off of an earlier initiative called Freedom Against Censorship in Thailand but its mission is much broader than its predecessor's - that is, to campaign at the national policy level to promote and protect netizens' rights, freedom of online media as well as civic journalism, and at the same time to promote a self-regulatory framework to ensure responsible use of the Internet.

According to the network's coordinator, Supinya Klangnarong, about 400 URLs have been banned over charges related to criminal defamation and lese majeste pending the court's hearing. "The problem is that cyber-crime police find it difficult to proceed with these cases in court because they could not arrest the suspected offenders," said Supinya.

The Thai government put in place the Computer-Related Crime Bill in 2007, almost two decades after Internet communication was introduced into Thailand, in response to a proliferation not only of indecent websites and blogs and rising computer crimes like pornography, but also pictures, remarks and information deemed as insulting to the monarchy or as threats to national security.

But the network finds many articles in the laws problematic.

According to the group, Article 19 of the law gives cyber crime officers too broad an authority to determine the offenses that could allow an imposition of wrong judgment of the offenses and exploitation by any group.

Article 15 of the law also overburdens web masters and ISP providers as it requires them to heavily filter or self-censor what might be defined as offenses under this law. They are also required to keep electronic files of clients dating back to at least 90 days since they posted into the system, causing a heavier load in their database.

One of the group's prime tasks is to lobby for an amendment to the one-year-old law to separate free expression from ordinary computer crimes. "There should be a parameter or a definition of criminal offenses specified under the anti-cyber crime bill. Expressing opinion, right or wrong, should not be a criminal offense in the first place," Supinya said.

The group will work closely with other media professionals and other civil groups to improve the application of defamation laws to ensure that free speech and press freedom are protected.

The group also called on all concerned to clearly define what constitutes lese majeste so it would not be exploited out of proportion to the extent that it undermines free speeches and free and equal access to information.

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To read the full report, see:

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