THAILAND: Midnight uni website closed after protest

Website's scholars tear up mock interim charter to demonstrate their disagreement with coup

Bangkok Post
Sunday, October 1, 2006

By Kultida Samabuddhi

The Midnight University website, a popular online academic forum, has been banned a day after its scholars tore down an imitation interim charter to symbolise their opposition to the coup makers' charter.

"The military regime has finally revealed its dictatorial behavior, which can't stand opinions criticising the coup," said Chiang Mai university lecturer Somkiat Tangnamo, webmaster of the site at http://www.midnightuniv.org.

According to Mr Somkiat, the website was banned on Friday night by the Information and Communications Technology Ministry, which was told by the Council for Democratic Reform (CDR) to ban political webboards found to contain provocative messages.

He said the closure of the website resulted from the academics' protest against the Sept 19 coup d'etat and the interim charter, drafted by the coup-backed lawyer Meechai Ruchuphan.

Led by Prof Nithi Eawsriwong, five leading scholars at Chiang Mai University on Thursday tore up an imitation charter to express their disapproval of the provisional constitution.

They lashed out at the CDR for bypassing public participation in the drafting of the interim charter, which will be used for a year until the drafting of the permanent constitution is completed.

"We don't accept the coup's interim charter," said Mr Somkiat. "And this possibly led to the censorship of our website."

As of yesterday, the website could be reached only by internet users outside the country. A group of the website's fans, including Phra Paisal Wisalo, a renowned activist monk, has launched a signature campaign to protest against the censorship of the website.

The webmaster said it was technically easy to re-open the website, but the university would not do so.

"Let our empty homepage tell people about the coup's violation of freedom of expression," he said.

Mr Somkiat said if the military regime continued to breach media freedom and people's right to express themselves, it would be impossible for the country to achieve its much-needed political reform. The six-year-old website, founded by prominent scholars from Chiang Mai University including Prof Nithi, had became a platform for people who disagreed with the coup d'etat to exchange their opinions.

Some anti-coup websites, such as the newly-opened http://www.19Sep.org site, have been closed for containing criticisms of the coup makers. Midnight University's webmaster said around 600,000 people visited the site's webboard a month, many of them Thai scholars and students from overseas.