Bangkok: Thailand’s decision to ban video-sharing website YouTube highlights a growing crackdown by the junta against political comment online, media rights groups said on 5 April.
The military-installed government announced on 6 April that it had banned YouTube after it failed to block a video considered insulting to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a revered figure here.
The 44-second clip shows images of the king, crudely altered with a graphics programme, which flash on the screen to the tune of the Thai national anthem.
One image shows the monarch under a photograph of feet, which are considered the lowest part of the body in Buddhism. The image is hugely offensive in Thailand, a mainly Buddhist country.
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance said while commentary about the king is culturally sensitive in Thailand, blocking the entire site raised serious concerns.
“Thais are now deprived of a popular and accessible medium that can accommodate alternative and independent voices,” it said in a statement.
“There is a growing spectre of intolerance toward web-based media as a whole. The Internet is vulnerable in Thailand, and not just when it comes to material pertaining to the king,” it said.
Since the military seized power in a September coup, it has also blocked political websites linked to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra as well as a university discussion board.
Police are also investigating a website calling on the king to sack his top adviser, Prem Tinsulanonda, over his alleged role in masterminding the coup.
Thailand’s government has blocked a total of 45,000 websites, according to the group Freedom Against Censorship Thailand. About 85% of them are believed to be pornographic, and many were banned under Thaksin.
But the group’s coordinator, C.J. Hinke, said the government also uses its campaign against pornography to conceal its efforts to ban political websites, including discussions of the insurgency in Thailand’s south.
“They’re using pornography to conceal a hidden political agenda, because all of the sites, all of the discussions about the south are being blocked, as well as of course all of the Thaksin sites,” he said.
Assessing the extent of online censorship in Thailand is difficult because the kingdom has no law explicitly governing online content, and is not required to reveal which sites it has blocked.
The decision to ban YouTube received little coverage in Thai media, which generally avoid reporting anything controversial about the king, but generated intense debate in online chatrooms.
“It’s unacceptable. No Thai wants to see that video. I am still crying. I am very sorry for what YouTube has given to the world,” one posting said on the Thai discussion board Pantip.
“If the government cannot delete the clip, does that mean we can’t watch YouTube for the rest of our lives?” another said.
YouTube is owned by Internet giant Google, and has a monthly audience of more than 70 million viewers. The company did not immediately respond to email queries for comment, but this is not its first run-in with censorship.
Turkey blocked access to YouTube last month because a clip was deemed insulting to the country’s founding father. A court revoked the ban after three days.
Brazil also banned the site over a video showing a supermodel apparently having sex on a Spanish beach. A court revoked the ban, and YouTube removed the video at the request of the judge.
The ban in Thailand came a week after Thailand jailed a Swiss man for 10 years for insulting the king by vandalising his portraits during a drunken spree.
Thailand’s king, almost universally adored by Thais, is the world’s longest-reigning monarch, and one of the few who is still protected by tough laws that prohibit any insult against the royal family.