Thais lead Twitter assault

Thailand has become the first government to publicly endorse Twitter’s controversial decision to censor messages in certain countries.

Twitter announced last week it would permit country-specific censorship of content that could violate local laws, prompting debate worldwide about freedom of speech.

In Thailand, where censorship laws are already heavily enforced, the information and communication technology minister, Jeerawan Boonperm, called Twitter’s decision a ‘welcome development” and said the ministry already received ‘good co-operation” from internet companies such as Google and Facebook.

The Thai government would soon be contacting Twitter to ‘discuss ways in which it can collaborate”, she told the Bangkok Post.

In China, the state-run Global Times also endorsed the new rules in an article this week: ‘It is impossible to have boundless freedom, even on the internet and even in countries that make freedom their main selling point,” it said. Twitter is blocked in China but many users access the site by accessing external networks.

According to the regulations, a tweet from Thailand could be blocked at the request of an individual, a company or the government. However, although it will be invisible to users in Thailand, it could still be seen by users in other countries.

Thailand has some of the toughest censorship laws in the world, ranking it 153 out of 178 in Reporters without Borders’ 2011 Press Freedom Index.

Increased sentences
Thailand’s lese-majesty regulations inhibit defamatory, insulting or threatening comments about the royal family, which are punishable by up to 15 years in prison — but under Thailand’s 2007 computer-crimes act, prosecutors have been able to increase sentences.

Last year, a 61-year-old Thai national was jailed for 20 years for sending defamatory SMSes about the monarchy, and a Thai-United States citizen received a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence for translating a banned biography of the king.

While the information ministry has blocked thousands of websites in recent years — mostly related to online gambling, pornography and lese-majesty cases — the endorsement comes at a time of heightened tension over censorship rules.


A lese-majesty monitoring centre was opened in December and is manned 24 hours a day by staff trawling the net for offensive material. Facebook users already face potential jail time if they click ‘like” or ‘share” on any sites deemed offensive to the monarchy, and anyone sending a link, forwarding or revisiting websites with lese-majesty content should beware, authorities say.

Thailand’s endorsement could have profound ramifications across the region, said Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch Thailand, and it ‘adds more damage to an already worrying trend in Thailand”.

‘Twitter gives space to different opinions and views and that is so important in a restricted society,” he said. ‘If this censorship is welcomed by Thailand, then other countries, with worse records for human rights and freedom of speech, will find that they have an ally.” —

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Kate Hodal
Kate Hodal
Writing and reporting on the @guardian's Global Development and Modern-Day Slavery desks. Former @guardian Southeast Asia correspondent.
Advertising

ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Small towns not ready for level 3

Officials in Beaufort West, which is on a route that links the Cape with the rest of the country, are worried relaxed lockdown regulations mean residents are now at risk of contracting Covid-19
Advertising

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday