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Government shuts down 26 community radio stations

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Thai authorities, using the emergency decree, have recently shut down 26 more community radio stations in nine provinces, media reports said.

"The Nation" said six more stations were pressured to discontinue their operations. The English-language newspaper also reported that at least 35 people working for these stations, like radio hosts, station managers and executives, are facing lawsuits for allegedly encouraging their listeners to join the Red Shirt protest rally in Bangkok a few months ago, and for distorting information.

Suthep Wilailert, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform (CPMR), which organized a seminar on 14 July 2010 under its Community Radio Watch project, however, said "there are no clear details to substantiate these charges."

Suthep said sometimes as many as 200 soldiers would come to a community radio station to threaten the media workers and confiscate transmission equipment.

The CPMR reported that in Ubon Ratchathani, some 200 officials showed up to shut down a community radio station, while in Chiang Mai, up to 500 officials were deployed to close down another community radio station. Suthep said some of these officials were even armed with automatic weapons.

Some community radio stations continued to operate under much restriction, Suthep said. Staff were reminded not to air political comments to avoid getting into trouble with the government.

In the seminar, Dr. Surat Metheekhul of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) said that although the commission supervises community radio stations, the emergency decree - which had been recently extended in Bangkok and several provinces - allows the government to intervene.

Dr. Niran Pitakwatchara, a commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission, said that shutting down these radio stations could backfire on the government.

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