4 May 2011

Officials close down 13 radio stations ahead of elections

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Authorities in Thailand shut down 13 radio stations in and around Bangkok for allegedly airing a speech that was considered defamatory to the royal family, report the Southeast Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

On 26 April, security officials led by the military's Internal Security Operations Command raided the stations, seized their equipment and arrested at least three station personnel, including Lek Suphan, a host at 105.75 MHz Ruam Jai Thai.

All 13 stations were issued court warrants that claimed they broadcast live a speech by Jatuporn Prompan, an opposition politician and leader of protest group United Front for Democracy Against Dictiatorship (UDD), that was allegedly critical of the Thai monarchy. Jatuporn is now facing lèse-majesté charges, which carry possible 15 year prison terms.

Most of the stations are openly aligned with the UDD, popularly known as the Red Shirts, and were charged with broadcasting without proper operating licences, according to the reports.

According to SEAPA, about 300 Red Shirt protesters tried to prevent police from taking away equipment from one Bangkok station, FM 89.85 Kon Thai Huajai Diew Kan.

The raids followed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's promise to hold early elections in June or July.

"The upcoming elections can hardly be credible if the government closes down opposition radio stations and websites," said Human Rights Watch. "This government came into office saying it was committed to protecting rights, but it has become the most prolific censor in recent Thai history."

In a separate case, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, editor of the magazine "Voice of Thaksin", was arrested on 30 April and placed in pre-trial custody on a charge of lèse-majesté, says RSF.

Last April, Abhisit's government declared a state of emergency to contain UDD protests in Bangkok, which left 91 people dead, including two foreign journalists, reports CPJ. Authorities used the decree to shut down television stations and community radio and censor the Internet for reasons of national security. Most media were run by or associated with the Red Shirts.

According to a new Human Rights Watch report, no government official has been charged with a crime related to the 2010 Red Shirt protests.

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