The monarchy-loving Thai authorities have deleted over 5,000 web pages in the past three months in a continued crack down on content deemed insulting to the royal family, although critics argue it’s just an excuse to exercise ever more hardline censorship controls.
Thailand national police spokesman Piya Utayo explained that content critical of the royals had decreased during the period from December to March, although gave no explanation why, according to an AFP report.
Those found guilty of lèse majesté- literally ‘injured majesty’ – could face up to 15 years in a Thai slammer, and the pages of the interwebs are littered with the cases of unlucky souls such as Wipas Raksakulthai, who is thought to be the first person charged with the crime after an ill-considered Facebook post.
Although revered by many in the country, the 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is the country’s longest reigning monarch, does seem to polarise opinion – perhaps because he has personally intervened in the running of the country on several occasions.
Many have argued that lèse majesté is being used by the government as a smokescreen for an ever more rigorous approach to online censorship in the country.
On Monday, rights group Reporters Without Borders explained in its yearly report that Thailand was on its “countries under surveillance” list and could even swap places with the notoriously repressive state of Burma if it doesn’t soften its approach.
“If Thailand continues down the slope of content filtering and jailing netizens on lèse-majesté charges, it could soon join the club of the world’s most repressive countries as regards the internet,” the report said.
The government already nailed its colours to the mast earlier this year when it became the first to publically endorse a new feature on micro-blogging site Twitter designed to allow for the blocking of tweets at a country level in order to comply with local laws.
ICT permanent secretary Jeerawan Boonperm told the Bangkok Post that the functionality was a "welcome development" and that the Thai government wanted to make use of it.
Thailand is not alone in the world when it comes to wanting to block the free flow of information across the web, of course. China, Iran, India and Pakistan have all built or are mulling plans to build national content filtering systems. ®