Thailand backs Twitter censorship policy

  • @AndrewBuncombe

Authorities in Thailand have become the first to welcome a controversial new censorship policy introduced by Twitter, announcing they will work with the micro-blogging site to ensure any content posted online is in compliance with strict local laws.

Thailand's government already removes internet content that is deemed derogatory or offensive towards the country's monarchy and has a team of IT experts whose job is to trawl the net searching for such material. Since December, this taskforce has blocked 1,156 websites.

Twitter's new country-specific censorship policy was also welcomed in China, which blocks the micro-blogging website. The state-run Global Times newspaper said: "It is impossible to have boundless freedom, even on the internet and even in countries that make freedom their main selling point."

In Thailand, the country's information and communication technology department said it would be coordinating with the San Francisco-based site. "It's a good idea that Twitter has this policy to take care and prevent its users from violating the law, because freedom of expression must not violate other people's rights or the laws in each country," minister Anudith Nakornthap told Agence France-Presse.  "The ICT ministry will continue to ensure no person or group uses social networks to violate the law. I agree with Twitter's new policy but we will not be involved with Twitter's censorship."

Previously, the authorities asked Facebook to delete 10,000 pages of purportedly harmful content. Facebook users were told they could face penalties for simply clicking the "like" icon on a page that was deemed to be defamatory of the monarchy.

Many believe that the defamation legislation, known as the lese majeste laws, have been widely misused to attack political opponents.

When prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected last summer, she vowed that the law would be reviewed to try and prevent such abuse.

But Ms Yingluck's willingness, or else her ability, to act has been hampered by opposition activists and politicians who have portrayed themselves as "royalists" and sought to undermine the government. Recently, civil society activists who recommended that the maximum penalty for lese majeste be reduced from its current 15 years, found themselves as the focus of angry protests and demonstrations. Effigies of one of the activists, a law professor called Vorachet Pakeerat, were set on fire.

Mr Vorachet, who heads a group known as the nitirat, or "enlightened jurists", recently told the Bangkok Post that he believed there was a coordinated attempt to blacken his name and those of his fellow activists. "There is a concerted attempt to instigate a hate campaign against me, which has diverted the public's attention from my proposal," said the academic, who has proposed scrapping the current minimum punishment of three years in jail and reducing the maximum to one or two years. "This does not mean I think the monarchy deserves no protection. And as the head of state, the King has more protection than ordinary people already."

Campaigners have said the censoring of Twitter would further limit the options for dissent in Thailand. "It's very shocking and disappointing that Twitter is now caving in to a policy of adopting self-censorship in order to have a presence in a repressive society," Sunai Pasuk, a representative for Human Rights Watch in Thailand, told reporters.

"This is not going to do any good for the current situation in Thailand where freedom of expression has been attacked so severely."