It has been 258 days since the Prachatai.com website was blocked under the order of the CRES. The order to block the website came about right after the declaration of the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation (hereafter “Decree”). Prachatai.com, which has been online since September 2004, was first blocked on 8 April 2010. The amount of the financial loss, according to the figures that Prachatai has filed in a charge against the government and CRES with the Court of Justice and which is currently being investigated by the Court of Appeal, stands at 5 million baht.
However, the figure above does not include the emotional pain and the loss of our reputation and the loss of business opportunities, which can be divided into two parts. First, the SMS news service that Prachatai started not so long ago could have been a good opportunity for news providers to provide information to the public who are eager to receive information in these turbulent times. However, the SMS provider informed Prachatai that it would stop the service. The reason given was that there was an order that Prachatai.com was blocked by CRES. Second, a few days prior to 8 April 2010, Prachatai started to receive revenues from advertisements. The blocking of the website definitely led to insecurity and doubts among businesses that wanted to put its company’s advertisements in Prachatai.
Given that the Cabinet decided to lift the Decree, Prachatai sees this action as being necessary to present the effects and financial losses resulting from the order to block the Prachatai website under the Decree, so that the Government which is the actor in enforcing the law will operate according to the principles of legal justice rather than in an arbitrary manner. The latter is what happened in the past eight years under CRES. The recent report which was released by iLaw.or.th, together with the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, found that tens of thousands of URLs have been ordered to be blocked under the orders of CRES.
Once we analyze the details of the websites that were blocked, we found that in many cases the blockings were being done in a extremely broad manner. Websites that do not have contents related to politics such as news broadcast websites (i.e. www.justin.tv, www.ustream.tv) were subsequently blocked under the Decree. News websites, which presents contents related to the May demonstration and the subsequent crackdown and dispersal by the state officials such as the journal by Nick Nostitz in the Killing Zone, the report by Spring News regarding the casualty from the friendly fire between the soldiers during the clash at Don Muang, the interview of witnesses at Wat Prathumwanaram, the report of Citizen Journalists who were in the demonstration and presented their stories on YouTube and Vimeo were all subsequently blocked.
If we analyze the contents of websites that were blocked, we can say that this is a serious act by the Government to “close the mouths, ears, and eyes of the Thai people”.
Coming back to the experience of Prachatai in these past months, we were faced with continuous blockings. There were attempts in every way possible to block all the news channels of Prachatai. The Prachatai website changed the name of the website eight times. The webboard changed its name three times before Prachatai made the decision to shut it down on 31 July 2010. Apart from these examples, Prachatai Social Network Channels such as www.facebook.com/prachatai were blocked. All three accounts belonging to Prachatai, namely (@prachatai, @prachatai_en, @prachatai_wb) along with the YouTube channel (YouTube/user/prachatai) were blocked. The attempts to block the website, IP address, and servers were the reason for Prachatai to change its server, website registration, and all its online operations abroad to guarantee the possible access of our readers and to guarantee the safety of information that the users would not be able to access or threatened by the government (??). Since our operations have been relocated abroad, this led to unnecessary high costs and an unnecessary loss of money that could have been circulated inside the country to improve our business and to play a role in the progress of the news and technology industry. Such trends however are likely to be used by other online news providers and Thai Netizens as long as the situation of the threats to the online media and netizens will continue.
The important thing that the media needs to be concerned about and to stay focused on is to monitor the move of CRES to a new center under the directive of the ISOC using the power of the Internal Security Act rather than the Decree. Therefore, the irregularity of law which will have an effect on the rights, liberties, and human security will continue. However, the framework of the power of the ISA does not give ISOC the power to block the dissemination of media information. Therefore, once the Decree is lifted in Bangkok and in the nearby provinces it means that the current blocking of tens of thousands of URLs is a blocking without any legal foundation to justify these blockings.