Thailand’s new tsunami of political repression – SET them FREE!

Politicians can be so entertaining. Sometimes we laugh so hard we cry. Of course, the posturing and bluster of politicians always leads to the truth being forgotten as they try to distance themselves from any issue which could interfere with their position at the public trough.

We’re still trying to make some sense over Thailand’s recent tsunami of political repression.

Background: The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) took a downturn of 24.55 points on October 14 and international financial analysts Bloomberg News wrote about it. Of course, it is Thai stock traders’ coin to be interested in such trends and the article was translated into Thai. However, was this weakening really the result of “panic selling”? In any case, it is hardly the first such drop in SET without any rumors at all.

SET’s downturn was immediately blamed by politicians on rumours of our ailing King’s demise. King Bhumibol has, after all, been in hospital for more than a month and he is 81. Conveniently, only a few days later, two securities traders were found to have posted information to two public webboards, Prachatai and Same Sky, which since their inception as public, independent news voices have been nettling to insincere politicians and bad government.

The two stockbrokers were promptly arrested but not under the Securities Act which compasses financial manipulations but under Thailand’s draconian cybercrime law because the brokers posted to Prachatai and Same Sky. Troublesome as reality is, in both cases the Bloomberg translation was posted after SET took the dive! In fact, SET rallied after publication of the original Bloomberg article in English. Nevertheless, reputations and conformity mean a great deal in Thai society and the two brokers have been fired from their jobs.

News articles characterised Prachatai and Same Sky as mouthpieces for the populist Red-shirt movement The Red-shirts seek the return to glory of Thailand’s last elected prime minister, a billionaire international fugitive from Thai convictions, Thaksin Shinawatra. A further troublesome fact is that both Prachatai and Same Sky have been unwavering in their criticism of Thaksin, as was the case in April 2009 when FACT’s website was blocked along with 70 Red-shirt websites.

However, Prachatai’s webmaster, FACT signer Chiranuch Premchaiporn, was arrested and stands accused of lèse majesté for not being quick enough to delete public postings some bureaucrat somewhere found critical of Thailand’s monarchy. (Gee, we thought that was government’s job…) Same Sky’s public webboard refuses to delete any public posting but comments on the monarchy are couched in oblique terms intelligible to anyone in the Thai community. Same Sky’s Thai language journal, Fah Diew Kan, has been banned under the Printing Act for alleged lèse majesté.

Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act was the first law passed in 2007 by the military coup-appointed national assembly. Its provisions have frequently been used as a tool of political repression with penalties of up to 20 years in prison. The Bangkok Post accurately described the law as “a catch-all…to stifle criticism and intimidate the media”.

Thailand’s lèse majesté laws have been used even more frequently for silencing political dissent. One recent sentence was 18 years. Although these recent arrests under the cybercrime law did not specify lèse majesté, we must be under no illusion that this repression is meant directly to deter Thai citizens from any expression which could, even outlandishly, be thought to be critical of Thailand’s Royals. This is crucial to government’s attempt to intimidate Prachatai and Same Sky.

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) calls for the immediate and unconditional repeal of these three laws, and others such as the Internal Security Act and Film Act, which only purpose is to stifle free expression not protect the Thai public. Not coincidentally, all these laws and many others were enacted by the military coup d’etat, many in 24 hour sessions just before Thailand’s return to elected government.

Thai police have not only arrested the two unwitting stockbrokers but the third arrest under the cybercrime law for rumours sparking a SET crisis was the owner of a pool hall in Chonburi, a province with longtime criminal association. The snooker fan claims to have only written the material on his own computer and to have never posted it to the Internet. (Yes, the cybercrime law even anticipates this possibility!)

Thai police claim to be closing in on snooker-man’s associates, whom they say made a five billion baht profit from SET’s downturn.; that’s roughly $149,633,394.07 U.S.

No one loves a conspiracy more than politicians, as long as they don’t show up behind it. It will be most entertaining to see what fanciful fictions they come up with to explain how all these pieces fit together.

And now the minister of the Orwellian-named Ministry of Information and Communication Technology has threatened to close any of Thailand’s 100+ ISPs which permit Internet access to unspecified “offensive websites”. Only casually veiled, this indirect threat is obviously the means to shut down Prachatai and Same Sky as users will transit every ISP to access these sites whether or not their host servers are outside Thailand.

The ICT minister was most famously named Official Censor of the Military Coup. The Computer Crimes Act requires all Web censorship to be by court order. However, an estimated 55,000 websites have been blocked preemptively or on an emergency basis by Thai government.

The Thai finance minister has also stated that the ICT ministry can make the decision to close down Prachatai and Same Sky which cannot be seen to be other than a direct threat. It would be hard to imagine Thailand without the independent news voices of which Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) is one.

Politicians have turned Thailand’s national security into national insecurity. National security, never defined, is always government’s ready excuse for political repression.

Thailand’s continuing blatant attacks on free expression shows government’s total disregard for Thai citizens and Thailand’s standing in the world community.

As Bangkok Pundit puts it so succinctly: “First they came for BBB…” “and I did not speak out because I was not a _____________…Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me”. It’s time for you to speak out before it is far too late.

SET them FREE! : Thiranan Viphuchanan, Katha Pajajiriyapong, Somjate Itthiworakul.

We’ve been thinking of buying some stock, perhaps in ISPs. Think we’ll go play some snooker first though…

CJ Hinke

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)

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