Civil Liberties

South Pacific Countries Crack Down on Free Speech


There must be something in the water down in the South Pacific. Following the recent news that an Australian state is considering tough new legislation banning swearing in public, comes word that Thailand has blocked 43,000 websites accused of defaming the king.

Thai authorities are using strict Internet crime laws, along with laws that make it illegal to criticize the monarchy, plus emergency powers the government granted itself following the recent outbreak of anti-government protests. The latest crackdown comes after 17,000 other websites were blocked, supposedly for national security reasons. Clothilde Le Coz from Reporters Without Borders has more context:

Blocking Twitter and Facebook is nothing new for Thai authorities. Since at least 2009, this has been a regular practice among the Thai police. So far, one blogger, Suwicha Thakor, has been jailed for his online activities. In April of last year, he was given a 10-year jail sentence by a criminal court in the northeast Bangkok district of Ratchada. This was for posting content online that was deemed to have insulted the monarchy. Thakor has been held in Bangkok's Klong Prem prison since January 14. […]

The harassment of netizens is widely spread and does not stop at Thai borders. In 2006, Anthony Chai, an American citizen from California, was interrogated by Thai officials in Thailand and again later in the U.S. for allegedly insulting the monarchy in 2006. Originally from Thailand, Chai was granted U.S. citizenship in the late 1970s. He faces possible arrest if he returns to Thailand. "What if now the U.S. is allowing a U.S. citizen to be interrogated by foreign agents on U.S. soil?" he said. You can read more about Chai's case here.

With all the instability in Thailand, a feature in The Diplomat notes that many people in the region are pointing to Indonesia as a better model for democracy. But critics of the government are suffering in Indonesia, too:

Indonesia may have made significant strides on media freedoms since repealing many of the repressive Suharto-era laws that muzzled the press. But rights groups say the government is still trying to silence critics of public officials, pointing to renewed efforts to monitor the Internet as evidence that free speech remains in jeopardy.

Take, for example, the case of Prita Mulyasari—probably the best example of how uncomfortable Jakarta's elite are with online media. The housewife and mother of two spent three weeks in jail for writing an e-mail to friends complaining about the treatment she received at a private hospital.