Thursday, May 29, 2014, 10:42
Thai junta widens scope of censorship
By Tan Hui Yee, The Straits Times/ANN

Thai junta widens scope of censorship

Thai soldiers patrol around the Army Club in Bangkok May 28, 2014. Thailand's junta has appointed as advisers two retired generals with palace connections, putting powerful establishment figures hostile towards former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra firmly in the ascendant in the country's long-running power struggle. (Photo / Reuters)

BANGKOK - A brief denial of Facebook access caused panic in Thailand yesterday as the ruling junta looked into ways to make censorship more efficient.

Users found themselves locked out of the social media network for about an hour across several Internet service providers, raising fears of a prolonged stoppage in a country whose capital Bangkok was touted in 2012 as having the most Facebook users in the world.

The top official in the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MICT) said this was done to stop criticism about last week's coup from spreading.

"We have blocked Facebook temporarily, and tomorrow we will call a meeting with other social media, like Twitter and Instagram, to ask for cooperation from them," the ministry's permanent secretary Surachai Srisaracam told Reuters.

But the National Council for Peace and Order, as the junta calls itself, denied it was deliberate and said it was caused by a technical problem instead.

Since the military seized power last Thursday, social media applications like Twitter and Line have been heavily used to get around the heavy censorship of broadcast and print media. Thai media has given scant, if any, coverage of the anti-coup protests that have taken place across the country.

Junta leader Prayuth Chan- ocha has warned that people found making incendiary comments on Facebook would face the same wrath of martial law as those who use other media.

The MICT, meanwhile, is planning to create a national Internet gateway to make it easier to censor content. It has also blocked 219 websites seen as threats to national security, and intends to ask the operators of Facebook, You- Tube and Line to ban some user accounts, according to news website Prachatai.

The widening scope of censorship - including the continued detention of an outspoken journalist from The Nation newspaper - has sparked concern in many quarters, including two Myanmar journalist associations which yesterday demanded restrictions on media be lifted. Myanmar, Thailand's neighbour, was until 2011 under direct military rule.

Meanwhile, the junta said yesterday that 76 people remained in detention, out of the 253 who had been summoned to army quarters. But it has released core leaders of the pro-Puea Thai "red shirt" movement.

Former education minister Chaturon Chaisang, who was arrested on Tuesday after ignoring the junta's summons, appeared before a military court yesterday.

Many of those detained are politicians, activists and financiers linked to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was toppled by a military coup in 2006.