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Mon, April 9, 2007 : Last updated 23:20 pm (Thai local time)

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Home > Headlines > Political chat site shut 'for security'

Political chat site shut 'for security'

Govt pulls plug on online board; fuels YouTube censorship row

The government has shut down a popular online political chat room, citing national security as the reason.

The Information and Commu-nications Technology Ministry pulled the plug on the Rajdam-noen Room chat site hosted by the pantip.com website, according to minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom yesterday.

He said it had been temporarily closed after the ministry decided several topics, or threads, undermined national security.

The order was effective yesterday.

The chat room hosts political discussions with a leaning towards remnants of the previous regime.

The ministry is embroiled in another freedom-of-speech row over its decision to bar access to the video-sharing website YouTube after it declined to remove a clip deemed insulting to His Majesty the King.

Sitthichai said the ministry would permit the pantip.com chat room to open again "after the political situation improves". He would not say when this would be but hinted it could be soon.

He added the ministry was sensitive towards messages or discussions on websites that bordered on insulting His Majesty the King and Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda.

He said the ministry asked prachatai.com and mthai.com to monitor its political web boards, which allegedly carried several threads discussing the monarchy.

Sitthichai will consult with acting national police chief General Seripisut Temiyavej about legal action against those submitting content deemed harmful to the country.

Pantip.com yesterday posted a notice stating the Rajdamnoen Room was closed for national security reasons at the request of the ministry.

"The web page is suspended as requested. We would like to ask members not to post [political messages] in other rooms, otherwise the entire site will be closed. Sorry for any inconvenience," the notice said.

Pantip.com is the most popular chat site in Thailand and its political pages often feature feisty debate about democracy, the junta and the legitimacy of the coup.

The website is considered to be pro-Thaksin Shinawatra and anti manager.co.th, the website of the Manager Group controlled by Sondhi Limthongkul.

The Rajdamnoen page was shut for two weeks shortly after the September coup that ousted Thaksin.

Pantip.com founder Wanchat Padungrat yesterday said he could not understand why the chat room had been closed. He added he monitored the content of Rajdamnoen Room and found no aggressive messages insulting the monarchy.

"The ministry does not specify which topics [endanger national security]. It may become sensitive for the junta. However, I am wondering why pantip.com is the only website being censored, while other political sites are untouched," said Wanchat.

Prachatai.com editor Chuwat Rerksirisuk said he and staff ensured the site carried no offensive material. It is prepared to cooperate with the ministry.

"We try to impose self-censorship to prevent libel actions by third persons," Chuwat said.

He disagreed with ministry censorship, saying it did nothing to help the situation.

He was unaware of content deemed offensive to the monarchy, although he noted the ministry informed the site of two threads considered insulting. "We moved quickly to delete them," he said.

He added that 99 per cent of political threads on Prachatai did not discuss the monarchy. The others are trying to use the monarchy and the Privy Council president as tools to shut the site down, he said.

Prachatai.com is a political website which opposes the coup. It attacked the Thaksin government, too.

Media lecturer Darunee Hiranrak said the ministry could shut websites considered insulting to the monarchy and a danger to national security. "Even some details on the web board are not truthful. It could arouse political turmoil," she said.

Last month, the computer-related crimes bill passed its first reading in the National Legislative Assembly and entered the committee stage ahead of its second reading.

The proposed legislation is considered draconian by free-speech advocates because it provides for the punishment of online users and Internet service providers.

The legislation allows for the closing of websites carrying content considered a threat to national security. Critics say the draft gives the government excessive control over the Internet.

Sucheera Pinijparakarn

The Nation

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