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Online censorship amid mounting political tension

(RSF/TJA/IFEX) - 30 March 2010 - Reporters Without Borders joins the Thai Journalists Association and the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association in condemning grenade attacks on two Bangkok TV stations on the night of 27 March. It is vital that the different political groups abstain from taking revenge on media that do not support their cause, as happened during the violence at the end of 2008.

"This new political crisis is making it harder for certain news media to function properly," Reporters Without Borders said. "Even if state-owned media opt for pro-governmental editorial polices, that does not in any way justify this kind of violence. The political tension must not be allowed to affect media freedom. If the authorities and opposition get into this appalling habit, the press freedom situation in Thailand will get steadily worse."

The press freedom organisation added: "We urge the government to guarantee the security of media premises and to quickly investigate these attacks."

The two targeted stations were Channel 5 (which is owned by the army) and NBT TV (Channel 11), a public television service. M65 grenades were thrown at the Channel 5 building, injuring several soldiers posted outside. A few hours later, an M79 grenade-launcher was used to fire grenades at Channel 11's headquarters. In all, around 10 people, including the sentries, were injured in the two attacks.

It is not yet known whether the attacks were linked to the ongoing "Red Shirt" demonstrations in support of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The Bangkok police suspect a "political provocation."

Reporters Without Borders also condemns the government's censorship of the Internet. More than 50,000 websites and web pages are currently blocked in Thailand. The latest to join the list is Asia Sentinel ( http://www.asiasentinel.com/ ), an independent news website that is apparently being punished for posting a long and detailed series of analyses of the political situation since the 2006 military coup.

It is believed to have been the first website to mention the possibility of an agreement between Thaksin and the courts that would allow him to keep his fortune. It is not the first time that the site's editors have encountered this kind of obstruction. Its editor in chief, John Berthelsen, was denied entry to Singapore in April 2009 because of Asia Sentinel's generally outspoken tone.

The Ministry of Information and Information Technology has requested an allocation of 50 million baht (more than 1 million euros) for 2011 to fund its Internet censorship and surveillance activities. An official recently claimed that the authorities were blocking more than 150 websites a day for alleged hostility towards the monarchy.

Thailand was ranked 130th out of 175 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. It is also listed as one of the "Countries under surveillance" in the survey of Internet censorship that Reporters Without Borders issued earlier this month.

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