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Online censorship and new arrests of Internet users

(RSF/IFEX) - The legal tools that the authorities abuse to restrict free expression in Thailand are the 2007 Computer Crimes Act and the lese majeste law (section 112 of the criminal code), which mainly targets Internet users. Harassment and intimidation are constantly employed to dissuade Internet users from freely expressing their views.

Three Internet users are currently in prison because of what they posted online.

Thassaporn Rattawongsa, a doctor at Thon Buri hospital, was arrested by the Central Investigation Bureau on 18 November 2009 at her home in Phaya Thai district. Aged 41, she is accused under Section 14 of the Computer Crimes Act 2007 of posting "inaccurate information that threatened national security" because she wrote in her blog that the king's poor health could have been to blame for the Bangkok stock market's recent fall.

Her computer and other documents were seized at the time of her arrest. The police say she admitted to being the blogger who posted comments under the pseudonym of "Mom" but denied any involvement in the stock market's fall and any intention of harming the royal family.

Dr. Thassaporn is the fourth Internet user to be arrested for blaming the stock market's fall on the king's health. The others are Somjate Ittiworakul, Thiranant Wipuchan and Katha Pajajiriyapong. Reporters Without Borders calls for their immediate release as the charges against them are nonsensical.

Another blogger, Nat Sattayapornpisut, 27, was held under the Computer Crimes Act from 15 to 27 October for allegedly sending "offensive" video clips to a blog called "StopLeseMajeste." Although he has been released, no decision has been taken about his case and he faces the possibility of being detained again and prosecuted.

In fact, all Nat did was sent links to the videos to Emilio Esteban, 46, a British-born blogger based in Spain who has been campaigning for the repeal of Thailand's lese majeste law since 19 April and who is the editor of the "StopLeseMajeste" blog. Esteban has confirmed this in a video posted on YouTube
( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkLI67EKfa0 ).

Reporters Without Borders calls for Nat immediate release. "He is just a scapegoat in this case, as the Thai authorities are unable to arrest the person who posted the videos from Spain," the press freedom organisation said. "When you criticise a law, you are not criticising the king or threatening national security."

Praya Pichai, who was arrested in September 2007 for criticising the monarchy, is no longer detained and the authorities have dropped all charges for lack of evidence. But he remains under surveillance and the public prosecutor could still decide to prosecute him at any time until 2017 if he posts something online that causes displeasure.

Suwicha Thakor is serving a 10-year jail sentence which he received on 3 April 2009 for criticising the monarchy. His wife and children, who are still being kept under surveillance, are in financial straits as a result of his detention.

The number of websites that are blocked in Thailand is put at 55,000. They include Fia Diakan, which is blocked intermittently, and many YouTube pages.

At least 16 people work full-time on Internet censorship from a "war room" set up in Bangkok. The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology claims to have closed 2,000 websites under the lese majeste law.

Thailand was ranked 130th out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
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