THAILAND: Web board banned, claim of lese majesty

Webmaster says people unhappy with content sabotaged Midnight University academic forum

Bangkok Post
Friday, July 28, 2006

By Kultida Samabuddhi

The Midnight University web board, a popular online academic forum, has been banned for containing messages that insult the monarchy. The six-year-old website, founded by prominent scholars from Chiang Mai University including Prof Nithi Eawsriwong, was closed down on Tuesday by the free website provider Thaimisc.com.

"Thaimisc had to shut this web board because it contains inappropriate messages that are offensive to the monarchy," said a message posted on the Midnight University's website.

The board was popular with intellectuals and university students in Thailand and abroad, who exchange opinions on social and political issues, including the political situation and the role of the monarchy in Thai politics.

Midnight University's webmaster said the number of visitors to its website had increased from 300,000 in 2000 to two million "clicks" per month this year.

Around 600,000 people visited the site's web board per month, many of them Thai scholars and students from overseas.

Todsapol Tungtermsak, owner of Thaimisc.com, which provides free web pages to Midnight University, said he used his "personal judgement" in making the decision to close down the web board.

"There is a lot of wording that insults the monarchy on the web board. I can no longer allow them to operate," he said.

However, he earlier admitted to the online news agency Prachathai.com that the ban was on the orders of the Information and Communications Technology Ministry and the police.

Chiang Mai university lecturer Somkiat Tangnamo, webmaster of the www.midnightuniv.org site, said closing down the web board was a serious violation of freedom of expression.

The website administrators had no intention of offending the monarchy, but supported "constructive discussion" on the role of the monarchy, said Mr Somkiat.

He said a group of people had intentionally flooded the web board with rude words insulting the monarchy in a bid to "destroy" the board, because they were unhappy with the opinions critical of the government that appear there.

"The censorship of our web board results from an ongoing competition for political hegemony. I believe that the ban is politically motivated," he said.

Thai society was at a crossroads and people needed somewhere to freely discuss the situation and propose their non-mainstream opinions, said Mr Somkiat.

There were around 17,000 topics posted on the web board before it was closed.

Mr Somkiat said the Midnight University was in the process of searching for a new host server to re-launch its web board.

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