THAILAND: FACT protests against Internet censorship
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand members say the cyber crime bill, which has led to the closure of anti-government websites, poses a threat to free speech
Sunday, June 10, 2007
By Achara Ashayagachat
Some 40 members of Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) yesterday staged a peaceful protest against the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry's continuing censorship of the internet.
In the 90-minute rally outside Panthip Plaza, Bangkok's largest computer and IT outlet, protesters battled through sweltering temperatures in the afternoon sun to launch tirades against the government.
Shoppers and passers-by stopped to listen to criticism after criticism against the government's growing censorship of political websites and the passing of a new cyber crime law that many say poses a major threat to free speech and privacy in Thailand.
Gathering crowds pushed to get free copies of censorship circumvention software as they listened to complaints of how the ICT ministry has been placing tighter restrictions on cyberspace.
Arthit Suriyawongkul, a FACT member, said he understood that the government had to be wary of political repercussions following the coup but he asked for balanced communication.
"Of the 11,329 websites blocked since January 2004, only the site hi-thaksin.net, which was shut several months ago, was recently reopened. We're surprised and would like to know what standard or principle the government is using to shut down or reopen these political websites," said Mr Arthit, who is also an assistant researcher at Thammasat University's Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology.
The cyber crime bill, passed nearly two months ago by the National Legislative Assembly, hands the authorities the power to file lawsuits against internet service providers (ISP) or websites owners, which will pressure ISPs to exercise self-censorship.
Jittat Fakcharoenphol, Kasetsart University's lecturer of engineering and a member of the protesting group said: "The general public has the right to know what's going on in our country now. What we distribute today can help them gain access to websites blocked by the ICT," he said.
"This is a form of civil disobedience, that we can still do now."
Nattaphan Teerasomboon, a 19-year-old student at Bangkok University's Mass Communications Faculty, who witnessed the protest, said he did not know much about the cyber crime law but sensed that blocking the YouTube site, useful for both entertainment and academic purposes, was certainly not a good idea.
However, a 27-year-old female shopper at the mall said she was sympathetic with the ruling administration whose concerns on political security should take precedence. But she said authorities should think of other ways to control security other than blunt legal tools.
FACT was formed a few months before the Sept 19 coup.
"We are neither pro- nor anti-Thaksin [Shinawatra]. Nor are we for or against the coup makers," said C.J. Hinke, founder and coordinator of FACT.
"We are up against censorship and we care for the people's rights and freedom of information."
Date Posted: 6/10/2007