(Hong Kong, July 8, 2010) The decision of an independent online news site to shut down its web board is indicative of the shut down of free speech in Thailand under the ongoing state of emergency, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said on Thursday.
In an announcement posted on its website, www.prachatai.com, Prachatai said that as the government was hunting for people making comments online, it had decided to close the web board for the safety of users.
"The media and posters alike face the threat of sweeping accusations that they are a 'threat to national security' through the use of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, the Emergency Decree and Section 112 of the Criminal Code," the Bangkok-based news group said.
"The tracking and hunting down of people who post comments in the webboard seems to be no problem at all for the authorities who do not even have to obtain any information from Prachatai," it added.
"With limited protection and no guarantee of safety for anyone who uses the webboard, the Prachatai team has to come to this conclusion" to close the board, it announced.
AHRC director, Basil Fernando, said that the closure of the webboard spoke to the extent to which nobody in Thailand had the right to speak freely any longer.
"Under the former government of Thaksin Shinawatra, people speaking out about human rights and politics were intimidated, and there was a degree of self-censorship in the mainstream media, but nothing like what we have seen since the 2006 coup," Fernando said.
"The latest round of outright repression under the emergency decree, which has just been reimposed across much of the country, is akin to that of a military dictatorship," he said.
"Internet chat boards are among the few places that people feel that they can still get things off their chests, so if Prachatai has decided to pull the plug on comment because it's afraid of the consequences, then the situation in Thailand is very grim indeed," the Hong Kong-based rights group director added.
Prachatai's director, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, is already facing a raft of charges under the 2007 Computer Crime Act for failing to remove quickly enough comments from the web board that the police allege were offensive to the monarchy. Section 112 of the Criminal Code also punishes insults to the royal family with up to 15 years in prison.
In recent months the site has had to shift its online addresses and take other steps to get around Internet censorship. The authorities named it on a list of websites to be targeted under the emergency regulations imposed in response to anti-government protests.
Aside from websites, anti-government broadcasters and publications have also been shut down in recent months, including a television station, five serials and some 20 radio stations.
On July 6, the prime minister and cabinet decided to renew the Emergency Decree in 19 provinces, including Bangkok, for a further 90 days.
"The state of emergency has been extended even though there are no more conditions in Thailand to warrant it, in clear violation of international law," AHRC director Fernando said.
"Obviously, the purpose of the continued use of this emergency law is nothing other than to repress government opponents from outside of a rule-of-law framework," he added.
"The consequences will be very bad for Thailand, as there will only be an increase in legitimate anger at the unelected government and a further decline in legitimacy for the country's key institutions, including its courts," he noted.