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Issue of "The Economist" magazine banned as authorities continue to crackdown on free expression under guise of protecting king

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the 27 January 2009 decision by the Thai government to ban distribution of the 22 January issue of the London-based "Economist" magazine because of an article ( http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12992577 ) entitled
"The problem with Harry" about the three-year jail sentence imposed on Australian writer Harry Nicolaides on a lese majeste charge.

The ban came two days after the government said it wanted to "educate foreigners" about lese majeste.

"News and information are being controlled more and more in Thailand, where the national press already censors itself as regards the king," Reporters Without Borders said. "There was no reason for censoring 'The Economist' as the article was not about the king but the ruling party's use of the lese majeste law, which is apparently being applied even more extensively since the new government took over."

The article in "The Economist" noted: "A backlash may be brewing, though, and not just among Bangkok's chattering classes. Conventional wisdom holds that public reverence of Bhumibol, 81, is genuine and deeply felt. The same patently does not apply to the heir apparent, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. Palace propagandists have struggled to burnish his image. Indeed, private gossip on the foibles of royals has never been sharper."

The government previously censored the 4 December 2008 issue of "The Economist" on the grounds that an article ( http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12724800 ) entitled "A Right Royal Mess" was also an attack on the monarchy.

Justice minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga announced on 24 January that a joint campaign will be waged with the foreign ministry to inform foreigners about Thailand's lese majeste laws. Thai embassies abroad will be urged to inform visitors about the penalties for insulting the monarchy. Members of Prime Minister Ahisit Vejjajiva's government have filed a proposed amendment in parliament to increase the maximum sentence for lese majeste from 15 to 25 years.

Suwicha Thakhor, an Internet user who has been held at Bangkok's Klong Prem prison since 26 January for allegedly posting a comment about the royal family online, was denied a request for provisional release.on 27 January He was arrested by the Department of Special Investigations on 16 January while visiting friends in the provinces.

Officials say they established that an insulting comment about the king and his aides was posted from his computer. They also claim that Thakhor left Bangkok precisely because he knew the authorities would be after him. Thakhor denies the charges.

For further information on the Nicolaides case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99972

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