Thailand Shuts Down Political Web Site

Sunday, January 06, 2008

By SUTIN WANNABOVORN, Associated Press Writer


BANGKOK, Thailand — 

Thai authorities have shut down a political Web site that spoke out against the monarchy, the site's operator said Sunday, in another move to punish critics of Thailand's most revered institution.

Visitors posted comments on the bulletin board, questioning claims in the Thai media that the entire country was in mourning over the death Wednesday of Princess Galyani Vadhana _ King Bhumibol Adulyadej's older sister _ and criticizing official calls for the public to wear black as a sign of mourning, said Thanapol Eiwsakul, who operated the site.

The Information and Communication Technology Ministry threatened local Internet provider Netservice with closure unless it took the action against, which was closed Friday, Thanapol said.

"I received a letter from Netservice that the ministry pressured them to shut down our Web site or it would shut down Netservice," he said.

No one from the ministry could be immediately reached for comment Sunday, and remained inaccessible. Netservice could not be contacted.

Thanapol said he did not know if he would face charges or if he would be allowed to reopen his site. He said he was considering legal action against the government because it had not sought a court order before closing the site.

He said he hoped to find a foreign Internet provider that would allow him to continue operating the site.

"I think we're one of the few sites posting remarks against the monarchy," Thanapol told The Nation newspaper. "This is the price we are paying."

The Thai government routinely blocks Web sites, mostly because of offensive sexual or political content deemed sympathetic to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a coup in September 2006. Police say some 32,000 Web sites have been blocked to Thai Internet users since 2002.

It also takes a hard line against anyone who criticizes Bhumibol, who celebrated his 80th birthday in December and is the world's longest serving monarch.

Last year, Thailand blocked the popular video-sharing Web site YouTube for four months because of clips it deemed offensive to the king. The ban was lifted after YouTube's owner, Google Inc., agreed to not allow videos that break Thai laws or offend the Thai people.

In March, a Swiss national Oliver Rudolf Jufer became the first foreigner convicted in at least a decade for offending the monarch, under Thailand's strict lese majeste laws. Surveillance cameras caught Jufer spraying black paint across five posters of the king in the northern city of Chiang Mai where he lived. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail, but was deported to Switzerland in April.

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