Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made several important and poignant remarks regarding internet freedom. See our blog entry here. But one country was markedly absent from her review: Thailand. Thailand’s law of lese majeste (meaning "injured majesty"), which has been on the books since 1957, prohibits anyone from "defaming, insulting or threatening" the monarchy. This law is taken seriously (one offense can land you from 3 to 15 years in prison) and enforced broadly – very broadly. For example, a 27-year old student was investigated after refusing to stand up when the royal anthem was played before a film screening. The student was struck with popcorn and assaulted with rolled up movie flyers by other audience members. Now, he says he hides in safe houses and disguises his appearance when he has to venture outside.
Recently, Thailand has ramped up efforts to monitor lese majeste violations on the internet. Thailand’s Computer Crime Act of 2007 requires internet service providers to keep information about its users for 90 days and allows authorities to search this information free of judicial oversight. Since late 2008, thousands of websites have been censored. Indeed, within one month of taking control, the new government had entirely blocked 4,000 websites and noted that 10,000 sites contained "damaging remarks" about the monarchy. The new information minister even pledged 80 million baht (about 1.7 million euro) to develop an internet filtering system.
In addition to blocking websites, the police have used the new computer law to crack down on those accused of violating the oppressive lese majeste laws. In early 2009, an editor of a news website was arrested for allowing others to post comments about the monarchy to her website. A few months later, police arrested two people accused of using the internet to spread false rumors about the king’s health. One of the accused claimed that all she had done was translate an article from a financial news provider that linked the decline of the stock market to anxiety about the king’s poor health.
What's more, this law has been enforced against many non-Thai nationals who were arrested and sometimes convicted once they set foot on Thai soil. Human Rights USA is troubled to see such censorship and oppression of freedom of speech and expression. We urge the United States and foreign governments to work together to ensure the internet is free and safe for all users in the global community.