Thailand Using Royal Law to Suppress Dissent: Watchdog

BANGKOK ~ Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has accused the Thai government of using strict laws protecting the monarchy from insults to suppress dissenting voices on the Internet.

Thailand’s communications minister last month said the government was considering spending millions of dollars on a firewall to block websites it deemed insulting to the deeply-revered royal family.

“As King Bhumibol Adulyadej is very popular, being over-protective of his image is one of the ways the government is using to win over those calling for its (the government’s) overthrow,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“The Thai government’s desire to control online content is indicative of the difficulties it is encountering in recovering some support,” the Paris-based group said in the statement released late Tuesday.

The royal family’s role in politics has been a touchy subject in recent months as street protests by an anti-government group claiming loyalty to the monarchy drag on. The king has not commented on the recent turmoil.

The army chief and premier have recently accused unnamed groups of defaming the royals, a grave crime in Thailand that carries a maximum jail sentence of 15 years, but which media groups say is often used as a political tool.

Thailand made headlines around the world last year when it blocked the popular video-sharing website YouTube after clips started appearing mocking the deeply-revered King Bhumibol.

This and similar moves to implement tougher laws controlling cyberspace prompted press watchdogs to warn of increasing censorship after the coup that overthrew prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006.

Thaksin’s allies returned to government in December 2007, prompting his detractors to take to the streets in May this year.

Both pro- and anti-government sides have accused each other of slighting the royals, and earlier this month Sulak Sivaraksa, a well-known academic and critic of Thaksin, was arrested on suspicion of insulting the monarchy.

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