The Great Firewall of Thailand?

By Melissa Yeager

Thai citizens who subscribe to the international version of the New York Times didn’t receive a copy of the paper on Sept. 22.

The printer in the Asian country declined to print it due to a front-page article covering the 87-year-old king’s failing health. It speculated about the future of the country in his absence. The printer called it “too sensitive.”

Thai King's picture outside Wat Arun Temple

Thai King’s picture outside Wat Arun Temple

The Thai people love their king. You’ll find pictures of the king outside most buildings in Thailand. Every guidebook will warn you not to speak ill of the king. Thai law expressly forbids defaming the monarchy. Lately, that has meant prosecutions resulting in jail time of up to 15 years.

The New York Times article was deemed “sensitive” because it sets up a situation for Thai citizens to question what kind of monarchy their country should have. This is especially critical given the king’s failing health and the new military junta currently running Thailand.

In May 2014, a military coup seized control of the Thai government. The political turmoil had begun almost a year before that. Desperate to bring stability to the nation, the military has now fixed its gaze on trying to control the Internet much like China.

Instead of the nine digital pathways into the country that citizens use to access the Internet currently, the government would only allow one gateway in and out. One tech junkie compared it to having just one airport for an entire country. It seems illogical, but it does provide some benefits for the military junta.

With just one Internet gateway, opponents of the proposal say it would allow the military government to more closely monitor and shut down speech it finds inappropriate or threatening to its regime. In fact, that is exactly what the military cited in its justification for pursuing the firewall. Leaders say they have to be able to control opposition speech as well as harmful speech against the crown.

On its website, the Committee to Protect Journalists spoke out strongly against the proposed measure saying, “Thailand needs fewer, not more, controls on the Internet.”

It seems that many citizens agree with CPJ. Upon learning about the proposed “firewall,” Thai citizens took to Twitter and Change.org to voice their opposition to the proposal. Within a week, the petition had more than 126,000 signatures. At the time of this post, the petition was just 3,400 signatures shy of its goal of 150,000 names.

Photograph by Melissa Yeager.

 

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