Thai webmaster detained as Web censorship grows

2009.03.07 15:12

BANGKOK (AP) — Police detained a webmaster at one of Thailand’s top online newspapers on Friday after they said they found a reader’s comments offensive to the Thai monarchy posted on the site.

The raid on the Prachatai offices comes amid a crackdown on Web sites that authorities say are critical of the monarchy and a flurry of prosecutions for “lese majeste” — a law that prohibits insulting the country’s revered king.

The paper’s editor, Chuwat Rilirksirisuk, said that seven police officers presented an arrest warrant for Chiranut Prempreecha that charges she violated the Computer Crime Act. The policemen inspected documents but did not take anything away.

Police Maj. Gen. Worasak Nopsitaporn said that “a comment deemed offensive to the monarchy was posted on the Web site and was not deleted for several days.”

He declined to elaborate on the nature of the comment.

Chiranut remained in jail late Friday, but Chuwat said he would ask that she be given bail.

The 2007 Computer Crime Act instituted bars the circulation of material deemed detrimental to national security or that causes public panic.

Since the act became law, Thai authorities have blocked thousands of Web pages deemed insulting to the monarchy. The crackdown comes amid a growing debate over the eventual succession to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest serving head of state and the only monarch most Thais have ever known.

Until recently, prosecutions for insulting the monarchy were uncommon, with the charge mostly used for partisan political purposes as a way of smearing opponents.

But in recent months, lese majeste complaints have been filed against a fledgling Australian novelist, a BBC reporter, a prominent Buddhist intellectual and an activist who refused to stand during the playing of the Royal Anthem at a movie theater.

Prachatai, which was established by several well-respected journalists, senators and press freedom activists, describes itself as an independent, nonprofit, daily Web newspaper that provides information “during an era of serious curbs on the freedom and independence of Thai news media.”

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