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Grenades hurled at state-run TV stations; government cracks down on websites

Thai media outlets and journalists are under attack as thousands continue to march Bangkok's streets in anti-government "Red Shirt" demonstrations, report the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and other IFEX members. The Prime Minister declared a state of emergency in the capital today. Grenades lobbed at two state-owned television stations on 27 March injured 11 people, and on 2 April a car belonging to an employee of a daily newspaper was set on fire. Press freedom is also being curbed in other ways with a journalist facing 50 years in prison for insulting the monarchy.

Army-owned Channel 5 and the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT), which is managed by the prime minister's office, were rocked by grenade blasts in politically related violence, reports SEAPA. Last week, a makeshift bomb was thrown at a car parked in front of the "Matichon" newspaper building. In the last month there have been about 20 bomb attacks on government premises.

Different political groups must avoid taking revenge on media that do not support their cause, comment the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). "Red Shirt" demonstrations in support of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra - spearheaded by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) - began in early March. Protesters are attempting to force the government to dissolve parliament and call new elections. Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a 2006 military coup. News reports say the "Red Shirts," mostly farmers from impoverished provincial areas, are determined to keep up the pressure. Last year, UDD supporters attacked television reporters over perceived distortions in coverage of demonstrations after protests broke down into riots, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

In response, the government is ramping up its Internet censorship. More than 50,000 websites are currently blocked in the country, says RSF. An independent news site, Asia Sentinel, was recently blocked after posting a detailed political analysis of Thailand since the 2006 military coup.

In separate news, website editor Chiranuch Premchaipoen is facing 50 years in prison for failing to remove comments quickly enough from her site, considered insulting to the monarchy, reports RSF. She was arrested, charged and released on bail on 31 March. "Once again, the lèse majesté and computer crimes laws are being used politically to control and intimidate people with dissenting views," said RSF. "Amid the current political tension, the Thai public has greater need than ever to receive the kind of objective and quality news that Prachatai.com provides." The comments posted on the website in 2008 were removed as soon as Premchaipoen was notified.

Another webmaster who operates two websites that support the "Red Shirts" opposition movement was arrested and accused of violating lèse majesté and computer crimes laws on 1 April. Around 10 bloggers have been prosecuted or charged under the lèse majesté law. One is serving a 10-year sentence.

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