30 November 2011

Facebook users can get charged 15 years for posting content that insults monarchy

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Facebook users could be charged for commenting on, sharing or clicking "like" on content deemed insulting to the Thai royal family, authorities announced on 24 November. The announcement came just a day after a 61-year-old man accused of sending insulting text messages was sentenced to 20 years in jail - the heaviest sentence ever handed down for a "lèse majesté" case, report the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and ARTICLE 19.

According to SEAPA, the government has requested that Facebook remove more than 10,000 pages containing images or text posted from abroad, which allegedly contravene Thailand's lèse majesté laws. Under the laws, individuals found guilty of insulting the monarchy can be sentenced to up to 15 years' imprisonment for each offence.

Thai Information Minister Anudith Nakornthap also urged users to delete offensive material posted by others on their profiles or risk being prosecuted under the Computer Crimes Act. "They will be seen as having a role in indirectly disseminating an unlawful message," he said.

Facebook now has over 12 million users in Thailand, representing close to 20 percent of the population.

In 2006, the Thai government blocked access to YouTube after discovering more than 20 videos with lèse majesté content, reports SEAPA. Access was eventually restored when Google agreed to make the videos unavailable to Thai users. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 55,000 websites are blocked in the country.

The ministry's announcement came just a day after Ampon Tangnoppakul was sentenced to 20 years in jail for sending four lèse majesté text messages in May 2010 - five years for each message.

Ampon pleaded not guilty, testifying that the messages were sent from a phone that was in a repair shop at the time. Prior to the verdict, Ampon was denied bail, resulting in an eight-month detention during which his health continued to deteriorate, reports ARTICLE 19.

IFEX members have long called for reform of both lèse majesté and the Computer Crimes Act. During Thailand's human rights review before the UN Human Rights Council last month, ARTICLE 19 and a number of member countries, including France and Norway, publicly stated that the lèse majesté law, by its very existence, constitutes a threat to legitimate political expression and freedom of expression.

Under the previous government, the number of lèse majesté cases brought to trial increased, says SEAPA. "So far, statements made by Yingluck Shinawatra's Pheu Thai administration indicate that they will make no move to reverse this trend," SEAPA noted.

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