Hundreds of Sites Blocked in Thai Crackdown

Amid a spate of antigovernment protests, the Thai government is aiming to shut down 400 Web sites that it claims are threats to national security and social order and has advised ISPs to restrict access to another 800.

Thailand’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry identified more than 1,200 Web sites that violated the 2007 Computer Crime Act, according to a report in the Bangkok Post.

In the report, ICT Minister Mun Patanotai said that his agency had advised Thailand’s ISPs to restrict access to 400 of the sites, and that it was seeking court orders to force the shutdown of the 800 objectionable sites that are still up.

It’s not clear whether the sites contained antigovernment rhetoric. Of the offending Web sites, 344 contained information that ICT claimed in the Post was contemptuous toward the royal family. Two of the blocked sites contained religious content, one featured a video sex game and five others were deemed “obscene.”

The Thai embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

The increased Internet restrictions came on the same day that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej declared emergency rule as his government attempts to face down protesters seeking to unseat him. The opposition is the product of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, a broad-ranging group of business leaders, academics and activists who charge that Samak is a mouthpiece for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed and forced into exile in 2006.

Responding to yesterday’s demonstrations, in which one person was killed and 45 were injured, Amnesty International called on the government to resist the urge to censor dissenting views in a time of crisis.

“The Thai government should follow international guidelines clarifying that even under a state of emergency people should have the right to voice their opinions on all issues affecting them — including on the emergency decree itself — and to articulate viewpoints that differ from those of the government or groups they oppose,” Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty’s researcher on Thailand, said in a statement.

Internet censorship in Thailand is not new. A report from the group Fight Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) posted on Wikileaks details a complex web of government agencies that are censoring a growing number of Web sites or putting pressure on commercial ISPs to filter out Internet properties deemed offensive.

The FACT leak counted 11,329 Web sites on the ICT’s list of blocked sites as of May 2007, the most recent available. A second blocklist, maintained by the Thai police and dated November 2006, numbered 32,500 sites.

Earlier this year, Reporters Without Borders named Thailand to its list of countries censoring the Internet, but did not put it on its list of “Internet enemies,” which included 13 famously restrictive nations such as China, North Korea and Burma.

“The government that emerged from the September 2006 military coup has camouflaged online censorship behind the struggle against cybercrime,” the group said.

Meantime, Thailand’s foreign minister, Tej Bunnag reportedly resigned today, and rumors have emerged that Prime Minister Samak could step down Thursday morning.

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