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Thailand urged to drop new Internet bill

Reporters Without Borders has asked the Ministry of Communications and Internet Technology to change its approach to updating the Computer Crime Act of 2007.

The law already authorizes the government to arrest journalists and bloggers for political reasons. If a newly proposed amendment were adopted, the government would have even more latitude to muzzle the independent and opposition media.

"We support the five journalists association which have protested the bill," Reporters Without Borders said. "The bill - in addition to eliminating a requirement for a judicial warrant to block a website - would allow that action without approval from the Ministry of Communications and Internet Technology, thereby distancing the law even more from international standards."

The press freedom organization added, "We request that the legislation be withdrawn in its entirety."

Any official attempt to amend the Computer Crime Act should be undertaken after consulting with representatives of the media and information sectors - a move not made in this case - RWB said. A cooperative effort would ensure that the crime of lèse-majesté could not be charged for political purposes. And expression of opinion and offenses arising from online publication would be decriminalized, the organization said.

In a joint press release on 24 October, the Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcasting Journalists Association, Online News Providers Association, Information Technology Reporters and Academic Specialists on Computer Law Group declared that the bill would threaten the very infrastructure of the internet and would make website operators, internet service providers and users responsible for content.

The government has defended itself by citing a referendum held before the bill was introduced. But the media associations said that neither they, nor any online businesses, were given any participation in drafting the proposed amendment.

The 2007 law requires service providers to store individual data on web users for 90 days. Authorities may examine this information with no judicial oversight. The law also decrees prison terms for lèse-majesté, although this offense was not included in the first version of the law, in 2006.

Thailand is ranked 135 of 179 countries in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

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