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Thai-German journalist warns against Twitter’s censorship capabilities

In Thailand, where defamation cases against the monarchy carry a significant punishment, critics warn about the dangers of Twitter's censorship capabilities. 


Fernando Alfonso III


Posted on Jan 31, 2012   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 10:05 pm CDT

Between 2005 and 2011, more than 400 Thai citizens have been involved in defamation cases against the monarchy, a charge that’s punishable with three to 15 years in jail.

That’s why Thailand’s support of Twitter’s new censorship capabilities is so disturbing, said Saksith Saiyasombut, a German journalist who has written extensively on Thailand’s freedom of speech issues over the last two years.

“The fact that Thailand has stormed to the front to become the world’s first government to endorse Twitter’s new policy is staggering and yet unsurprising, given its track record on censorship and declining freedom of speech in recent years,” Saiyasombut told the Daily Dot.

Last week Twitter announced that it can now censor tweets country by country in compliance with local laws. In Thailand that law falls under Article 112 of lese-majeste, which prohibits “defamatory, insulting or threatening comments about the royal family,” reported The Sydney Morning Herald.

It shows the country’s past and present governments’ apparent obliviousness to the world’s attention to the dismal situation – with each unjust arrest and each over-emphasizing show of loyalty the law is doing exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to do: to protect the monarchy.

—Saksith Saiyasombut

One of these defamation cases surfaced in May 2011 after a Thai-born U.S. citizen pleaded guilty to translating a banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on his blog. Another 61-year-old Thai citizen was jailed for 20 years after he sent a defamatory text message about the king last year, reported the Morning Herald.

While Twitter believes that its new censorship strategy is in the best interest of its users, Saiyasombut argues that it will further stifle freedom of speech in a country plagued with injustice.

“The draconian nature of Article 112 of the criminal code has been stifling any progress on political debates,”  Saiyasombut said. “And thanks to its ambiguity to define defamation to the king and the royal institution, and the fact that such a complaint can be filed by anyone from anywhere, enables rampant misuse that has been blatantly obvious over the past years.”
Photo from Saksith Saiyasombut

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*First Published: Jan 31, 2012, 2:19 pm CST