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Prachatai calls on public to demand right to information

The public must demand that the government free all websites blocked under the emergency decree, which ended yesterday, in order to defend their right to access information, media executive Chuwat Rerksrisuk said yesterday.

Chuwat is managing editor of prachatai.com, an online independent newspaper, which has been blocked under the decree since April 8 this year.

"I would like to call others whose websites have been officially blocked, and those who use their services, to come out and demand they be unblocked - and make it known how truly valuable is the freedom we have been deprived of," he said

"As for the government, it should learn from the experience [of imposing the emergency decree] that this leads to more divisions in society and it is also impossible to truly shut down [opposition] media," said Chuwat, during a prachaitai.com press conference yesterday.

The website, which had to change its Internet address eight times over the past eight months, said many people could not access the site over the period and damage was estimated at Bt5 million. Prior to the blocking of Prachatai on April 8, the site received some 450,000 hits per week - including 87,200 visitors on the days before the blocking. Last week, the figure had dropped to 109,380 hits per week and 29,921 visitors. Under legal pressure, its political Web-board was also terminated in July.

"This is tantamount to shutting down people's mouths, ears and eyes," said Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of prachatai.com.

Yesterday, after 258 days of being blocked and finally changing its temporary address to prachatai3.com, part of prachatai.com had been unblocked by some servers - but people were still finding access impossible through servers such as TOT and True.

Both executives urged the public to closely monitor how the Internal Security Act, which has now replaced the emergency decree, would affect basic rights and liberty.

The website had earlier filed a lawsuit against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and the ICT Ministry for "unlawfully" blocking the site - but the civil court decided the defendants acted lawfully under the emergency decree. The case is now before the court of appeals.

The site, though not-for-profit, lost income generating opportunities as no one dared put up advertisements on the site and the mobile phone SMS news-service was unilaterally cancelled by the provider for fear of breaking the law.

"It affected the development of Thai mass media. The editorial staff have been affected emotionally, as well as their families. Our work proceeds under a climate of fear... which leads to the lack of freedom in carrying out our task."

In a sign of continued commitment to the freedom of access to information, for the past two weeks prachatai.com reported some of WikiLeak's cables on Thailand that had been self-censored by the mainstream media.

"We must admit that the issue of WikiLeaks [contained information] related to the transition of Thailand into the future... If we are the media, it would be hard for us not to point this out... But we understand the limitations of mainstream media and didn't expect anything from them," said Chuwat.

Chiranuch said that as a consumer of news from the mainstream Thai media, she was simply "disappointed".

Source: 
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