Technology

Despite denials, Thailand's online surveillance plans are alive and well

Originally published at Siam Voices on October 22, 2015 "We will not talk about this any more. If we say we won't do it, we won't do it," said Thai Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak at an economic forum in Bangkok last week. His decisive words were in response to the ongoing controversy over the Thai military government’s plans to introduce an online single gateway.

Last month, Thai internet users discovered a cabinet resolution surveying the implementation of a single online gateway ”to be used as a device to control inappropriate websites and flow of news and information from overseas through the internet system.” Subsequent resolutions ordered the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) and related agencies to speed up their preliminary work.

If realized, Thailand’s internet traffic would be bottlenecked through a single gateway, making it possible for officials to filter and block undesirable content. This is in line with the military junta’s ongoing efforts to monitor and censor dissenting voices, both in real life and online, ever since it launched a military coup in May 2014.

Amidst widespread criticism and a coordinated mass-click-and-refresh bombardment that briefly knocked several government websites offline, Thai officials were scrambling to calm public opinion, only then to contradict themselves justifying why the junta wants to have a single gateway in the first place. The explanations varied from economic reasons, cybersecurity concerns and ultimately ending at Thai junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha being initially ”worried” about the ”youth addiction to online games and access to inappropriate media”.

A week later, the government was hoping that the debate had died down. However, despite repeated statements insisting that it won’t pursue the single gateway plan anymore, not everyone is convinced by their declaration. And it seems there is more trouble coming the junta’s way:

Online activists have announced they will launch attacks against the government beginning Thursday after the prime minister said the project to route all internet traffic through a single point of control is still alive.

The coalition of anonymous internet users known as Citizens Against Single Gateway last night warned private sector operations with IT systems linked to government servers to transfer them to safe places before the assault on government systems begins at 10am on Thursday.

Those behind a crippling attack earlier this month, the Thailand F5 Cyber Army, issued the announcement yesterday after Prime Minister and junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha said agencies are still studying the project (…).

First Chapter of ‘Cyber War’ to Begin Thursday”, Khaosod English, October 21, 2015

The little detail that the government is "still studying" the single gateway plan is enough reason for opponents to distrust the Thai military government. But there are several more signs that justifies the continuous skepticism by many online users.

CAT TELECOM has announced that it will proceed with the plan to build a national Internet gateway, which it claims would help make Thailand a digital hub in Asean.

The aim of the project is not to control the flow of information into the country over the Internet as some fear, said CAT acting chief executive officer Colonel Sanpachai Huvanandana. He said a working committee for the project would be set up. Whether that committee is under the Information and Communications Technology Ministry or under the Digital Economy Committee is up to the ICT minister.

The national Internet gateway is one of two priorities for making Thailand a digital hub for the region by expanding capacity and reducing costs. The other is to have large content providers such as Facebook, Google and YouTube establish servers in Thailand.

Net gateway for digital hub”, The Nation, October 21, 2015

The other part of the plan to have internet tech giants like Google and Facebook setting up shop in Thailand (the latter already did) seems ambitious to say the least, given a potentially significant infrastructural disadvantage and previous persistent, but unsuccessful attempts by the military government seeking cooperation of these companies to censor posts deemed insulting to the monarchy and also identify their authors.

At the same time it is being reported that General Thaweep Netrniyom, the secretary-general of the Office of the National Security Council (NSC), could be appointed the head of the aforementioned CAT Telecom. It would be the first time that somebody from the NSC would take up that position at the state-owned telecommunication company and unsurprisingly his focus is expected be on cyber security - just as CAT’s current CEO (a Colonel nonetheless) announced they are still not giving up on the single online gateway.

However, as mentioned before, that is not the only measure by the military junta to control the flow of online information in Thailand. It already has blocked more than 200 websites deemed a threat to national security (source), ordered internet providers to censor on sight, reportedly also procured software to intercept encrypted SSL-connections and additional hacking and surveillance software, it is also in process of passing its so-called cyber laws, a set of bills aimed officially at “preparing Thailand for the digital economy”. But it also includes passages that enables widespread online surveillanceprosecution against intermediaries (e.g. website owners) and more legal uncertaintybenefitting the state more than Thai online users.

Most recently, Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan announced on Tuesday the creation of a new ”Army Cyber Center” specifically to ”protect” the Thai monarchy and to ”keep track of information on media and social media and to sort them out systematically,” essentially underlining their priorities. In August this year, two people were sentenced to a record 28 and 30 years in prison respectively for allegedly posting Facebook messages deemed insulting to the monarchy.

Thailand's new cyber laws - Part 3: Far-reaching cyber snooping

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 20, 2015 In this part in our series examining the Thai military government’s new cyber laws, we look at the most controversial bill among the eight drafts: The Cyber Security Bill.

Any government nowadays has to adapt its laws and at the same to keep it up to date with technological advancement - which is a seemingly herculean task given their vastly contrasting respective pace. One issue many lawmakers are focusing on is cyber security. Given the growing reliance on internet access in our everyday lives and the increasing number cyber attacks, the legislative base to counter that are either still archaic (some by design) or in some cases simply non-existent.

Thailand is obviously not exempt and thus created the 2007 Computer Crime Act (CCA) - the problem is that the wording of the CCA is so vague that is has often been (ab)used for online censorship and the 2015 update doesn't fix these problems either (read previous part).

With the new Cyber Security Bill (full PDF and translation here), the current Thai military government is seemingly adding another legislative basis to combat cyber crime - but what it actually does is an assault on online freedom and personal privacy, starting with the creation of a new government agency:

Section 6: There shall be a committee called “The National Cybersecurity Committee” (NCSC) consisting of:

(1) Minister of Digital Economy and Society as Chairperson;

(2) Secretary of the National Security Council, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, Commander of the Technological Crime Suppression Division, the Royal Thai Police as 4 ex officio members;

(3) Not more than 7 qualified members appointed by the Council of Ministers (…)

As it can be seen from the make-up of the committee, its members are almost all from the military and police - all positions that have been or can be filled with people close to the current military government, who will be on the committee for 3 years (Article 9).

Section 7: The NCSC shall have the following powers and duties:

(1) to determine the approaches and measures for responding to and tackling cyber threats in the event of undesirable or unforeseeable situation or circumstance concerning security that affects or may cause significant or serious impact, loss or damage so that the NCSC becomes the centre of operation in the event of situation or circumstance concerning security in a timely and uniform manner, unless the cyber threat is such that affects military security, which is a matter within the powers of Defence Council or the National Security Council;

Section 14: The Office of the National Cybersecurity Committee shall be set up as a State agency having a juristic person, not being a State division or a State enterprise.

Section 17: The Office shall have the following powers and duties:

(1) to respond to and tackle cyber threats in the event of undesirable or unforeseeable situation or circumstance concerning security that affects or may cause significant or serious impact, loss or damage by issuing operation measures that take into account the degree of secrecy and the access to classified information; (…)

(3) to co-operate with State agencies or private agencies for the purpose of collecting information on cyber threats, the prevention and tackling of circumstances of cyber threat, and other information concerning the maintenance of Cybersecurity, to be analysed and submitted to the NCSC for consideration; (...)

(5) to monitor and speed up the operations of the State agencies involved in maintaining Cybersecurity, and report to the NCSC; (…)

(13) to perform other acts concerning national Cybersecurity as entrusted by the NCSC or the Council of Ministers.

While Article 7 and 17 are pretty much standard fare regarding its tasks, Article 14 hints that the NCSC has wider powers and fewer bureaucratic hurdles to overcome in order to act swiftly - which also potentially means less transparency. And whatever is meant in Article 17.13 with "other acts concerning national Cybersecurity as entrusted" by the Cabinet is highly unlikely to be ever publicly disclosed - maybe unorthodox ways to 'gain information'?

As the next excerpt shows, the NCSC will have so much power it can even take over command of other state agencies in a crisis:

Section 33: Upon the occurrence of an emergency or danger as a result of cyber threat that may affect national security, the NCSC shall have the power to order all State agencies to perform any act to prevent, solve the issues or mitigate the damage that has arisen or that may arise as it sees fit and may order a State agency or any person, including a person who has suffered from the danger or may suffer from such danger or damage, to act or co-operate in an act that will result in timely control, suspension, or mitigation of such danger and damage that have arisen. (...)

Section 34: In case where it is necessary, for the purpose of maintaining Cybersecurity, which may affect financial and commercial stability or national security, the NCSC may order a State agency to act or not to act in any way and to report the outcome of the order to the NCSC as required by the Notification of the NCSC.

Another interesting tidbit is in Article 18.3:

Section 18: For the purpose of the fulfilment of the objectives under Section 17, the Office shall have the following powers and duties:

(3) to enter into an agreement and co-operate with other organisations or agencies, both in the public and the private sectors, [both based domestic and abroad] in activities concerning the fulfilment of the Office’s objectives;

One way to interpret that is that the NCSC will seek "co-operation" from private corporations, including those providing social media platforms and messaging apps. In the past Thai authorities, in their quest to criminalize even mere Facebook 'likes' linked to unwanted content or dissent, tried to contact the company behind the messaging app LINE in order to access all messages - they didn't a reply, but nevertheless later boasted that they could monitor everything.

Nevertheless, Thai authorities would be empowered to snoop thanks to the already infamous Article 35:

Section 35 For the purpose of performing their duties under this Act, the Officials who have been entrusted in writing by the Secretary shall have the following powers: (…)

(3) to gain access to information on communications, either by post, telegram, telephone, fax, computer, any tool or instrument for electronic media communication or telecommunications, for the benefit of the operation for the maintenance of Cybersecurity.

The performance under (3) shall be as specified by the Rules issued by the Council of Ministers.

Yes, even the good old telegram is not safe from long arms of the authorities! It is self-evident that with that wording the NCSC will have far-reaching powers to look into the personal data of every Thai internet user. And given the paranoia of the military junta with social media, the potential for abuse of the law in the name of national (cyber-)security is nigh on endless. It remains to be seen if the aforementioned guidelines will ever be issued by the Cabinet when this bill is signed into law.

Translated sections of draft bills by Thai Netizen Network. You can read complete translations here.

THAILAND'S NEW CYBER LAWS: Part 1: Introduction - Part 2: Changes to Computer Crime Act - Part 3: Far-reaching and all-encompassing cyber security

Thailand's new cyber laws - Part 2: Changes to the Computer Crime Act

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 17, 2015 With the passing of eight new draft bills under the banner of "Digital Economy" by the Thai junta cabinet and awaiting approval by the ersatz-parliament, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), the main focus of criticism is aimed at the cyber security bill and the amendments to the 2007 Computer Crime Act (CCA).

In this part, we take a look at the most crucial changes to the Computer Crime Act.

The old Computer Crime Act was itself a problematic piece of legislation when it was passed in 2007 due to the vague wording of certain sections. Particularly there’s a high legal ambiguity in Article 12.2, which punishes anything that is "likely to damage computer data or a computer system related to the country’s security, public security and economic security or public services" with 3-15 years in prison, and Article 14, which punishes any computer-related act that causes "damage the country's security or causes a public panic" (especially if it is "related with an offense against the Kingdom's security under the Criminal Code") with a maximum of five year in prison.

That led to many cases where people were charged for political expressions made online that were deemed by the authorities as lèse majesté, which almost doubles the potential punishment of the accused (as mentioned in our introduction previously).

Now these two passages has been mashed together into into one Article, which says:

Section 14/1 - Any person committing an offence that involves import to a computer system of false computer data in a manner that is likely to damage the country's security or cause a public panic must be subject to imprisonment for not more than three years or a fine of not more than sixty thousand baht [US$1,843] or both.

Section 14/2 - Any person committing an offence that involves import to a computer system of any computer data related with an offence against the Kingdom's security under the Criminal Code must be subject to imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than one hundred thousand baht [US$3,070] or both.

It’s not much different than the previous versions in terms of punishment, but the problematic vague wording (e.g. what constitutes "false computer data"?) remains. What's worse is the following Article 15:

Section 15 -  Any service provider intentionally supporting or consenting to an offence under Section 14/1 or Section 14/2 within a computer system under their control must be subject to the same penalty as that imposed upon a person committing an offence under Section 14/1 and Section 14/2.

If any service provider can prove that they follow the instruction to restrain the dissemination of such computer data or destroy such data from a computer system as required by a Minister, the perpetrator is not guilty.

Under the new law, the intermediaries are subject to prosecution as well. Basically, if for example a webmaster has content that's deemed offensive on their site and doesn't remove it, then they can be charged - even if they didn't write it themselves. That’s exactly what happened to Prachatai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn, who was accused of not deleting online comments from her website quickly enough that were deemed lèse majesté. The main problem in this case was how long is too long for somebody not to remove something seemingly offensive. In Chiranuch's case, it seemed the prosecutors more or less expected every webmaster to anticipate it even before the offense happens and to preemptively act against it. She was convicted and given a suspended jail sentence in 2012.

One of the major changes are the amendments to Article 18:

Section 18 of the Computer Crime Act of B.E. 2550 (2007) is added the following provisions as paragraph two and paragraph three:

"For the benefit of investigation and inquiry, in case there is a reasonable cause to believe that there is the perpetration of an offence to computer system, computer data, or any computer data storage devices under any laws, the superior administrative or police official under the Criminal Procedure Code or the competent official under other laws shall perform under this Act only the necessities for the benefits of using as evidences related to the commission of an offence or searching for an offender under the competent authorities indicated in paragraph one, paragraph two and paragraph three. The aforementioned officials shall request the relevant competent official to take action provided that their power of authority is limited under this Act.”

In simple words, authorities still need a court order in order to intercept online communication and it has to be specific. However, as the watchdog organization Thai Netizen Network points out, there's no limitation on how long these interceptions can take as compared to e.g. Article 25 of the 2008 Special Investigation Act, which allows access of 90 days (but permits unlimited extensions).

Also, Article 12 in the new CCA will punish cases which involves hacking of computer systems "that is likely to damage computer data or a computer system related to the country's security, public security and economic security" with up to 15 years in prison.

And finally in this short look, Article 31 already hints at the next part we'll be examining:

Section 31. Nation Cyber Security Committee (NCSC) shall be the central agency to control, monitor and assess operational performance of the competent official under this Act.

In the next part, we will look at the controversial new Cyber Security Bill, which seemingly could allow intrusive actions by the Thai authorities against internet users and the aforementioned National Cyber Security Committee will be an integral part of it.

Translated sections of draft bills by Thai Netizen Network. You can read complete translations here.

THAILAND'S NEW CYBER LAWS: Part 1: Introduction - Part 2: Changes to Computer Crime Act - Part 3: Far-reaching and all-encompassing cyber security

LINE denies Thai junta’s claim it is monitoring popular chat app

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 23, 2014 Claims by the Thai military junta that it is monitoring the popular chat app LINE for content deemed insulting towards the monarchy have been refuted by South Korea-based parent company Naver.

The Thai Minister for Information and Communication Technology (MICT) Pornchai Rujiprap stated on Monday that the authorities can "monitor all the nearly 40 million LINE messages sent by people in Thailand each day." LINE has at least 24 million registered users in Thailand, according to the company's latest figures in August - while Pornchai estimated the number to be at 33 million users, based on his own claims.

He continued:

"We can see what type of messages are being forwarded," Pornchai told reporters, "We focus especially on those that are libelous, anti-monarchy, or threatening national security." (...)

"The suspects cannot claim that they were not aware of the consequences of their actions, because the law regards them as conspirators in the crimes," Pornchai said, "Therefore, if you receive [anti-monarchy] messages, you should not forward them."

The Minister also vowed to seek IP addresses and other information about anti-monarchy websites from foreign companies that host their servers, though he admitted that the process could take a long time.

"It could take a long while because there needs to be a negotiation. Some countries have cultures that are different to Thai," Pornchai explained.

"ICT Pledges To Sniff Out Anti-Monarchy Chat Messages", Khaosod English, December 23, 2014

The South Korean parent company of LINE has been quick to dismiss the junta's claims:

“No monitoring by the Thailand government has been conducted,” Nam Ji Woong, a spokesman for South Korea-based Naver Corp., which owns Line Corp., said by e-mail today. “Line considers consumers’ privacy as a top priority.”

"Line Application Denies Reports Thailand Is Monitoring Messages", Bloomberg News, December 23, 2014

The draconian lèse majesté law criminalizes perceived criticism of Thailand's monarchy and carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail. Charges based on this law, where every citizen can file a complaint against anyone and police are obliged to investigate every one of them, have seen a rampant rise in recent years and even more so since the military coup of May 22, 2014. According to the Thai legal watchdog ilaw at least 22 people have been arrested on lèse majesté charges since the coup and also on the equally draconian yet vague worded Computer Crimes Act, which also penalizes digital content deemed a threat to national security.

The military junta - more than ever the self-proclaimed protector of the Thai monarchy and intolerant of dissent and criticism - has also imposed widespread media censorship and set up its own media watchdogs. Not only has the junta reactivated the 'cyber-scout' program, which recruits volunteer students to monitor the Internet, it even considered launching its own national social network, and it has also reportedly implemented the technical capabilities for widespread online surveillance.

This is not the first time that LINE and its Thai users have been targeted by Thai authorities. Last year, an overzealous Police Maj.-Gen. Pisit Pao-in of the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) of the Royal Thai Police has also sought access to user information and chat logs of the messaging app and was even considering criminalizing Facebook users for 'liking' what he thinks is "unlawful" content. Ultimately he was unsuccessful - so much so that even the hawkish then-ICT minister Anudith Nakorn-thap chided him for his overeagerness.

The biggest irony of the junta's boisterous claims that it is able to monitor LINE (that is unless the parent company is cooperating after all or the junta has found another way) is that it was made at the same event when the military junta was presenting series of LINE 'stickers' representing the junta's proclaimed and much touted "12 core values" (more on that in a future Siam Voices post), aimed at instilling what they think makes a "good Thai" like showing respect to superiors, resisting the temptation of “religious sins”, upholding “Thai customs and traditions”, and sacrificing oneself for the good of the country.

In their continuous, widespread media campaign - including commissioning propaganda short movies (one of which gained infamy for a brief, but bizarre Hitler scene) - the military government hopes (after it has spend 7 million baht or almost $213,000 on them) that LINE users will promote these "12 core values" by sending the stickers to each other - if only the junta can find a way to make sure that actually happens...

UPDATE [Dec 24]: ICT Minister Pornchai Rujiprapa has practically backtracked his boisterous claims:

He said it was merely a misunderstanding that the MICT can monitor ‘Line’ and that it is much easier to find evidences lese majeste and others cases via Facebook and websites which the IP address can be tracked. If he ministry need information on Line, it will have to cooperate with its headquarter.

“I merely said don’t send the [lese majeste] messages via Line because the police can make arrests when people file complaints with the messages as evidences. Not that the MICT was monitoring the chat traffic on Line. And warn people to be careful not to share the [lese majeste] messages because it is illegal according to 2007 Computer Crime Act.” Prachatai quoted Pornchai as saying.

"Thai authorities say no surveillance on popular chat app", Prachatai English, December 24, 2014

The Thai office of LINE has also emphasized that there's no surveillance and the Thai authorities need a court order to do so.

And in somewhat related news and ironic timing, LINE Thailand has a job opening for a "Content Editor and Monitoring"...

Thailand's junta extends censorship with mass online surveillance

Originally published on Siam Voices on September 19, 2014 Thailand's ruling military junta is further tightening its grip on the public discourse by heightening its censorship measures, going as far as reportedly implementing widespread surveillance of Thai Internet users. The new measure seeks to crush criticism at the military government and  to crack down on anything that is deemed insulting to the royal institution - also known as lèse majesté.

When the Thai military declared martial law two days before it launched the coup of May 22, 2014, one of the main targets was the complete control of the broadcast media, which resulted in the presence of soldiers at all major television channels and the shutdown of thousands of unlicensed community radio stations and over a dozen politically partisan satellite TV channels, primarily those belonging to the warring street protest groups.

Nearly five months later, most of these satellite TV channels (with one notable exception) are back on the air but have been renamed and had to considerably toned down their political leanings before they were allowed to broadcast again. The TV hosts who were last year's heavy-hitting political TV commentators are now hosting entertainment programs or, if they're lucky, return to a talk show format, but only in the name of national "reform" and "reconciliation".

But the military junta, also formally known as the “National Council for Peace and Order” (NCPO), still has a firm grip on the media, as it has set up specific monitor watchdogs for different media platforms (and also specifically for foreign news outlets) to screen out critical content against the NCPO. Furthermore, it has practically issued a gag order to the Thai media - only then to reiterate that while criticism against the military junta is allowed,  it should only be done "in good faith".

The censorship measures and the monitoring efforts also extend online. Unlike during the last military coup in 2006, the emergence of social media networks makes it a daunting uphill battle for the junta to control the narrative. Nevertheless, the authorities have always been eager to have more control to filter and censor online content and have blatantly resorted to phishing for user information, and even considered launching its own national social network. And there was this:

In late May, a brief block of the social network Facebook sparked uproar online, while statements by the Ministry for Information and Telecommunication Technology (MICT) and the NCPO over whether or not the Facebook-block was ordered or it was an “technical glitch” contradicted each other. It emerged later through a the foreign parent company of a Thai telco company that there actually was an order to block Facebook, for which it got scolded by the Thai authorities.

"Thailand’s junta sets up media watchdogs to monitor anti-coup dissent", Siam Voices/Asian Correspondent, June 26, 2014

The junta also reactivated its "Cyber Scout"-initiative, recruiting school children and students to monitor online content for dissidents, and announced plans for internet cafes to install cameras so that parents can remotely monitor what their kids are doing.

The towering motive of the junta's online monitoring efforts has been recently laid out by outgoing army chief, junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha:

Gen. Prayuth outlined a strategy to "defend" the monarchy in a speech (...) [its] transcript describes the monarchy as an important element of Thai-style democracy and an institution that the Royal Thai Government is obliged to uphold "with loyalty and defense of His Majestic Authority."

"We will use legal measures, social-psychological measures, and telecommunications and information technology to deal with those who are not mindful of their words, are arrogant at heart, or harbour ill intentions to undermine the important Institution of the nation," the speech reads.

Under Section 112 of Thailand's Criminal Codes, insulting the royal family is a criminal offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The law, known as lese majeste, has been harshly enforced since the military staged a coup against the elected government on 22 May. (...)

"Prayuth Vows Tougher Crackdown On Anti-Monarchists", Khaosod English, September 11, 2014

And in order to achieve this, the junta reportedly doubled down its online monitoring earlier this week:

Thai authorities reportedly planned to implement a surveillance device starting from 15 September to sniff out Thai Internet users, specifically targeting those producing and reading lèse majesté content, a report says. Although the report is yet to be confirmed, it has created greater climate of fear among media.

Prachatai has received unconfirmed reports from two different sources. One said the device targets keywords related to lèse majesté and that it is relatively powerful and could access all kinds of communication traffic on the internet. Another source said it could even monitor communications using secured protocols.

After learning about this, a national level Thai-language newspaper editorial team has reluctantly resorted to a policy of greater self-censorship. Its editor warned editorial staff not to browse any lèse majesté website at work and think twice before reporting any story related to lèse majesté.

"Thai authorities reportedly to conduct mass surveillance of Thai internet users, targeting lèse majesté", Prachatai English, September 10, 2014

On Wednesday, it was reported that amidst severe internet slowdowns across Southeast Asia due to a damaged undersea connection cable extra internet filtering in Thailand has been activated.

There is no doubt that Thailand's military junta is determined to go forward with its own, very exclusive way of governing and tightly controlling the narrative through widespread media censorship and massive online surveillance. By invoking the need to "protect the monarchy", the military has a convenient weapon to act against dissidents in real life and in the virtual domain as well, no matter where they are.

According to the legal watchdog NGO iLaw, over 270 people have been detained by the junta between May 22 and September 5. Eighty-six of them are facing trial, most of them before a military court. Fifteen of those are cases concerning lèse majesté.

Thai junta faces uphill battle to control social media

Originally published at Siam Voices on June 4, 2014 [Author's note: Due to the military coup of May 22, 2014 and subsequent censorship measures we have placed certain restrictions on what we publish. Please also read Bangkok Pundit's post on that subject. We hope to return to full and free reporting and commentary in the near future.]

And suddenly the progress bar wouldn't stop loading. Thai online users were stumped last Wednesday afternoon when they couldn't access Facebook, prompting a swift outcry on other social networks such as Twitter. While the lockout only lasted less than an hour, it was a chilling reminder of the censorship situation in a post-coup Thailand that also extends online.

After the Thai military's declaration of martial law that resulted in the coup d'état of May 22, the junta set up measures that restrict media outlets from criticizing the coup and the newly-established National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Numerous domestic and satellite TV channels temporarily stopped broadcasting and international news channels were blocked until Tuesday of last week.

With traditional news media either being censored or exercising self-censorship, many Thais have turned to social media for updates and commentary on the latest developments - and also for organizing anti-coup protests that have popped up on a regular basis. That explains why the junta is strictly monitoring online traffic and has strongly advised online users against sharing what it considers "wrongful" information that may "incite unrest".

Immediately after the coup, the NCPO summoned representatives of all Thai internet service providers (ISPs) and told them to block all online content that could be seen critical to the coup. As of writing, hundreds of websites have been  rendered inaccessible from Thailand without specific tools to circumvent online restrictions. Also, Facebook profiles of Thai pro-democracy and anti-coup activists have disappeared without notice - leaving us to speculate that they were either deactivated by their owners as a precaution or taken down for other reasons.

The Facebook outage was just the most visible episode of the Thai officials flexing their muscles - even though it wasn't entirely clear which authority was responsible for that:

A senior ICT ministry official confirmed the site had been blocked to thwart the spread of online criticism of the military in the wake of a May 22 coup.

"We have blocked Facebook temporarily and tomorrow we will call a meeting with other social media, like Twitter and Instagram, to ask for cooperation from them," Surachai Srisaracam, permanent secretary of the Information and Communications Technology Ministry, told Reuters. (...)

"We have no policy to block Facebook and we have assigned the ICT ministry to set up a supervisory committee to follow social media and investigate and solve problems," said Sirichan Ngathong, spokeswoman for the military council.

"There's been some technical problems with the internet gateway," she said, adding that the authorities were working with internet service providers to fix the problem urgently.

"Thai ministry sparks alarm with brief block of Facebook", May 28, 2014

The aforementioned meeting with representatives from the companies behind social networks and instant messaging apps never materialized. The calls by the Thai Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) were left unanswered, prompting MICT officials to seek a meeting with Facebook, Google and others in Singapore.

However, earlier this week...

Thailand's junta now says the trip is off. "At this point, things look fine, so there is no need to make any trip now," Maj. Gen. Pisit Paoin, adviser to the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology's permanent secretary, told The Wall Street Journal late Sunday.

Asked on Monday to elaborate on the junta's approach to social-media censorship, Maj. Gen. Pisit reiterated that the trip is off but said he was unable to discuss how leaders intend to work with large Internet companies.

"Thai Junta Says Facebook, Google Meetings Called Off", Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2014

Some of those alternative ideas have been revealed later that day in local media:

The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) is proposing a plan to build a state-owned Facebook-like social networking site called Thailand Social Network. (...)

The plan includes building a state-owned nation internet gateway (...)

In the plan, initiated by the military junta, private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will have to connect to the state-owned ISP TOT, so that it will be easier for the authorities to block websites and prevent terrorism, he said, adding that MICT will oversee the national gateway.

"Thai authorities to build state-owned social network site", Prachatai English, June 2, 2014

Aside from the very ambitious task of creating a new national social network to compete with the massive 26 million-strong user base Facebook has in Thailand - a similar venture by the Vietnamese government simply couldn't keep up - the MICT has been longing for bigger control of the online traffic flow for some time, as the statements by MICT officials at a conference shortly before the coup show.

Freedom of expression online in Thailand has long been an issue for authorities and is being challenged even more since the coup. On the other hand the military junta is facing an uphill battle dealing not only with new technology that didn't exist during previous coups, but also with the way that people are communicating online.

Thai Buddhist cult claims to know afterlife of Steve Jobs

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 21, 2012 A Thai Buddhist cult movement claims to know the whereabouts of Steve Jobs in the afterlife. In a TV special on DMC.tv, the satellite TV channel of the Dhammakāya (pronounced "tah-mah-guy") Movement, and its website have given their take on the question hardly anyone was asking in the first place: Where is Steve Jobs now? The Apple co-founder and CEO passed away in October 2011 after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer.

This question was asked by a man called "Tony Tseung" - who claims to be a senior engineer at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California - to Phra Thepyanmahamuni, the abbot of the Wat Phra Dhammakaya (their main temple). The movement was established in the 1970s and puts the focus of their teachings by literally interpreting Dharmakāya, which equates obtaining Nirvana as the "true Self", also known as atta - contrary to the main Theravada Buddhism teachings most Thais are following in which Nirvana is the ultimate goal, in which Self ceases to exist (anatta).

The abbot's answer is very elaborate to say the least:

หลังจากที่คุณ Steve Jobs ได้ละจากโลกนี้ไปแล้ว ก็ได้ไปบังเกิดใหม่เป็นเทพบุตรภุมมะเทวา (...) รวมกับอัธยาศัยพื้นฐานของตัวเขาซึ่งเป็นคนที่มีความรู้ความสามารถทั้งทางด้านวิทยาศาสตร์และสุนทรียภาพทางศิลปะสูงมาก (...) ตัวเขาก็ได้ไปบังเกิดใหม่เป็น “เทพบุตรภุมมะเทวาระดับกลางสายวิทยาธรกึ่งยักษ์” ที่มีที่อยู่ที่อาศัยซ้อนอยู่บนโลกมนุษย์ใกล้ๆ กับที่ทำงานเดิมของตัวเขาในทันที

"ภุมมะเทวาสายวิทยาธรกึ่งยักษ์" นั้นมีลักษณะเป็นอย่างไร (...) ก็คือภุมมะเทวาที่มีอัธยาศัย 2 อย่างมาผสมผสานกัน ได้แก่ อัธยาศัยของวิทยาธรที่รักในการเรียนรู้ศาสตร์และความรู้ต่างๆ กับอัธยาศัยของยักษ์ที่มักโกรธ ขี้โมโห (...)

After Mr. Steve Jobs has passed away, he reincarnated as a divine being (...) encompassing his characteristics: a person with the knowledge (and a great appreciation) for both science and arts (...) His reincarnation is a "Thepphabhut Phumadeva [divinity] of middle rank - half a Witthayathorn, half yak" that lives in a parallel universe not very far away from where he was as a human.

What is this divine being like? (...) It is a being that has two characteristics mixed together which includes his thirst for knowledge of sciences [his Witthayathorn half] together with his yak half, that is prone to be angry and hot-headed (...)

"ปรโลกนิวส์ ตอน สตีฟ จ็อบส์ ตายแล้วไปไหน ตอนที่ 1", DMC, August 21, 2012

Aha, Jobs is now apparently "half a Witthayathorn" - a term the abbot came up by himself - and, apparently because of his well-known temper, "half a yak" (not the animal), a giant demon that is mostly seen 'guarding' Buddhist temples in Thailand.

When the abbot went on describe how the life of Afterlife-Steve Jobs looks like, things get even more interesting:

ส่วนวิมานหรือที่อยู่ที่อาศัย ของท่านเทพบุตรใหม่จะมีลักษณะเป็นวิมานที่เรียบๆ ง่ายๆ ขนาดปานกลาง ที่สูงประมาณตึก 6 ชั้น ซึ่งตัววิมานจะประกอบด้วยโลหะสีเงินสีขาวและแก้วผลึกขนาดใหญ่ที่มีขอบเขตกว้างขวาง และอยู่ไม่ไกลจากที่ทำงานเดิมในสมัยที่ตัวเขายังเป็นมนุษย์ (...) นอกจากนี้ ท่านเทพบุตรใหม่ยังมีบริวารอันเป็นทิพย์ที่คอยรับใช้ดูแลอยู่ประมาณ 20 ตน ซึ่งทั้งหมดนี้ก็เกิดจากผลแห่งบุญที่ตัวเขาได้เคยทำบุญแบบสงเคราะห์โลกเอาไว้ในสมัยที่ตัวเขายังเป็นมนุษย์ เช่น บริจาคทั้งเงิน สิ่งของ ความรู้ให้แก่ผู้อื่นและสังคม

Concerning the living space of this new divine being: it is a very clean-cut, simple and middle-sized, six-story in height, which is built with silver metal and crystal in large quantities and that is not very far away from where he used to work in his human form. (...) Apart from that the new divine being has about 20 celestial servants at his service which comes from karma he obtained from charitable nature during his human form like donating money, objects and knowledge for others and society.

"ปรโลกนิวส์ ตอน สตีฟ จ็อบส์ ตายแล้วไปไหน ตอนที่ 1", DMC.tv, August 21, 2012

Anybody who dares to read the full explanation can go to their webpage here - even though it is only in Thai, the pictures should give an idea...! Also, there'll be a part two of the TV special on DMC.tv...

That last sentence is exactly the way of the Dhammakāya Movement many critics find fault in: give enough money for charity (preferably to Dhammakāya) and you might also reincarnate with your personal living space that coincidentally resembles an Apple Store and with your own personal Geniuses...erm, I mean servants!

The practices and methods by the movement are something more akin to what some say Christian TV evangelists with a giant temple on the outskirts of Bangkok, opulent mass-ordination ceremonies, the aforementioned TV channel with some production value, grand-scale downtown pilgrimages by monks, nationwide promotions such as a special credit card with a special perk to convert the bonus points into money donations to Dhammakāya, among many other actions.

And where does the money come from? Of course from donations by devotees, who are encouraged to donate large sums in exchange for great merits in order to ensure enough good karma for the afterlife. It basically blends religion with capitalism - a fact that may be why this movement had an increase of followers among the Bangkok middle class in the 1990s as this scientific article argues. This practice parallels to the selling of indulgences in Christianity during the middle ages until the 16th century, which was one of the points German reformist Martin Luther was protesting against in 1521.

Also, the Dhammakāya Movement is considered as one of a few Buddhist groups that have some to large supporters in Thai politics, as this cult is rumored to be closely linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The other noteworthy group is the Santi Asoke sect, which practices and propagates a more ascetic lifestyle that is opposed to materialism and mass consumption - in some ways the diametrical opposite of the Dhammakāya Movement business model. Followers of the Santi Asoke also took part in numerous protests against the government(s) of the aforementioned Thaksin Shinawatra and its reincarnations.

This whole story is intended as a lesson of karma and their take on what happens next after one has passed away. And of course this story is also yet another attention-grabbing PR stunt by the Dhammakāya Movement to gain new followers (and if you have been reading until this point you know why) by purely making up blatantly speculating predicting the afterlife of a worldwide-known figure. Not to mention the potential new devotees abroad, since this movement also has branches in 18 other countries including an open university based in California.

Steve Jobs was certainly influenced, if not even inspired, by Buddhism of various teachings. But he was not known as a devotee - not by practice and certainly not any of Thailand's various Buddhist's groups. Also, the abbot suggests that Jobs was concerned with life after death - contrary to his well-documented remarks that he regards death itself as "very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.” He also said in the same commencement speech to university graduates in 2005: "Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking."

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and on Facebook here.

Thai webmaster Chiranuch found guilty, but avoids jail term

Originally published at Siam Voices on May 30, 2012 Thai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn was found guilty this morning of not deleting lèse majesté comments on the now defunct web board of the Thai news website Prachatai quickly enough - she was sentenced to 1 year in prison, which was then reduced to an 8-month SUSPENDED sentence and a THB20,000 (US$630) fine.

In its verdict, the court states that Chiranuch has failed to delete one comment for 20 days, whereas the other nine objected comments were deleted within 10 days, thus violating against Article 14 and 15 of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act which punishes “false data” that damages a third party, causes public panic or undermines the country’s security and “any service provider intentionally supporting” the said offenses, respectively - despite the fact that the court also states that the expectation to pre-emptively delete illegal comments was "unfair".

Below is a full live timeline of the morning's events…

Today at 10.00 AM (Bangkok time) the Thai Criminal Court will give its verdict against Chiranuch “Jiew” Premchaiporn, the webmaster of the news website Prachatai. Chiranuch is being prosecuted for failing to delete 10 comments made by others that are deemed insulting to the monarchy not quickly enough. She has been arrested in 2009 and again in 2011, while the website itself has been hit by numerous takedown orders and blocked repeatedly by authorities.

If that paragraph above sounds familiar to you - it should be: these are exactly the same words from the live-blog from the original verdict date one month ago. However, just mere 10 minutes before it was about to start, the court decided to postpone the verdict, since it needed more time "due to the complexity of the case".

A lot has happened since then, most notably the death of lèse majesté-victim Amphon 'Uncle SMS' Tangnoppakul in prison and the  lèse majesté complaint lodged against Prachatai columnist Pravit Rojanaphruk. In light of these events, Chiranuch's case could be an even more unprecedented moment that could really determine Thailand's (dis-)regard for freedom of speech.

I’ll live-blog and comment the verdict here and also try to gather as many as reactions as possible. Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter @Saksith for up-to-the minute updates.

+++NOTE: All times are local Bangkok time (GMT +7)+++

12.13 h: That wraps up our live-blog. Today's verdict is a clear sign by the Thai state that freedom of expression doesn't really exist here. Besides directly cracking down on content that is deemed insulting, defaming to the monarchy or just simply not according to a dominant national narrative, the verdict also underlines the requirement to its citizen to self-censor to satisfy a pre-emptive obedience.

Today's verdict also against the freedom of expression online, as all platforms that provide a place to express opinions are held liable for the view expressed by others, thus practically putting a brake on any free discussion. Also, virtually all social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and any ISP are also being the target as their owners theoretically under Thai law are held responsible, too.

This is a huge blow for internet freedom as the Thai authorities and its laws are still far from being up to date, as the latter are too ambiguiously worded and leave roo much room for misuse. Even though Chiranuch walks away free today, this verdict is a warning shot to everybody who dares to push the very limiting boundaries of what can be said in Thailand

Thanks for following the live-blog!

12.00 h: First comment by Chiranuch:

"I expected to be acquitted, but I found the judge's verdict logical and reasonable," a smiling Chiranuch told reporters. "However, I still think the verdict will have an impact on self-censorship."

"Thai webmaster sentenced in free speech case", Associated Press, May 30, 2012

11.32 h: A picture of Chiranuch shortly after the verdict was read:

11.18 h: First wire news story on the verdict by AP:

BANGKOK (AP) - A Thai court has sentenced a local webmaster to an eight-month suspended sentence for failing to act quickly enough to remove Internet posts deemed insulting to Thailand's royalty.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn faced up to 20 years in prison for 10 comments posted on her Prachatai website, a popular political Internet newspaper.

The case was seen as a test of freedom of expression in Thailand. She was the first webmaster prosecuted under tough cyber laws enacted after a 2006 coup.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has said prosecuting her sent "a chilling message to webmasters and Internet companies."

"Thai webmaster sentenced in free speech case", Associated Press, May 30, 2012

11.16 h: This here was the basis for the reasoning of the verdict:

11.06 h: First reactions:

10.56 h: Summary: The Criminal Court still finds Chiranuch to be guilty, even though it has stated that the expectation to pre-emptively delete illegal comments to be "unfair" - but for the court they're still illegal, and measured by the fact that it took more than 10 days to delete one of them, the court finds her guilty. Very foul compromise!

10.52 h: BREAKING: Thai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn found guilty for not deleting lèse majesté comments not quickly enough - sentenced for 1 year prison, then reduced to an 8 months SUSPENDED prison term and THB 20,000 fine.

10.48 h: This is now getting crucial:

10.41 h:

10.35 h: Basically the court now is giving a summary of the case:

10.30 h: 

10.29 h:

10.26 h: Thai Netizen Network has the first tweets from the reading

Translation is following now...!

10.17 h: 

10.05 h: Good point!

10.01 h: The hearing on the verdict should be under way now...!

9.56 h:

This is standard court procedure, I'm sure we'll still get the news quickly enough.

9.52 h: Meanwhile in the courtroom...

9.50 h: Bangkok Pundit has turned on his crystal ball:

Here's hoping...

9.45 h: Here's a news report by Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay on Chiranuch's verdict, with a wider focus on lèse majesté as well:

9.40 h: From Google's Amy Kunrojpanya:

9.35 h: On my Twitter timeline and in general, there're quite noticeably less #freejiew tweets...

9.30 h: It is indeed a considerably big news day in Thailand, with the historical visit by Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, the end of the ban for the 111 Thai Rak Thai Party politicians and also a return of the yellow shirted PAD to the streets to protest the reconciliation bill. However, I'm pretty sure that a negative verdict could overshadow all of these within a heartbeat.

9.20 h: On Twitter, I asked Thanyarat Doksone from AP, who's at the Criminal Court in Bangkok whether there are more or less media covering the verdict. Her answer is not surprising:

9.20 h: In the evening of the original verdict date, Prachatai has published an open letter by Chiranuch. Here's an excerpt:

Dear All,

I write to you to share my thoughts before the verdict will be read in the next 7 hours. Although I still don’t know any answer for my life, I wish we can win the case but I should prepare for unexpected results too. Many of you asked how do I feel as the verdict is approaching. Honestly, there were mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m glad that I’m able to get some guide of my future, it might be better than never known. (…)

Chiranuch’s letter prior to the verdict“, Prachatai, April 30, 2012

9.15 h: However, her case also highlights the problematic application of the laws mentioned – especially Article 112 since anybody can file it from anywhere. Chiranuch herself was arrested again in 2011 after a man in Northeastern Khon Kaen filed a complaint against herand was dragged to that town on the spot shortly she arrived at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok – ironically after she came back from a panel on internet freedom in Hungary…!

Also of note here is that often times the CCA is being used in conjunction with Article 112, which has been used numerous times to curb freedom of speech online.

9.05 h: It’s important to stress out that Chiranuch is NOT charged under Art. #112 #LM, but Art. 15 of the CCA which punishes “any service provider intentionally supporting” for violations made against Art. 14 for “false data” that damages ”false data” that damages a third party, causes public panic or undermines the country’s security – whatever that is supposed to mean…!

9.00 h: Good Morning and welcome to the live-blog! Here's a recap about Chiranuch's case:

This case highlights the ambiguous legal foundation: Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act (CCA), which punishes “false data” that damages a third party, causes public panic or undermines the country’s security, while the webmaster herself is being charged under Article 15, which punishes “any service provider intentionally supporting” the said offenses. These violations would be punished by five years of imprisonment – for each offense – theoretically tallying up to a total 50 years, but legally ‘only’ a maximum of 20.

Since the alleged comments are regarded as lèse majesté, this case also shines a light on the infamously draconian Article 112 of the Penal Code. All these articles leave (intentionally or not) wide room for interpretation and thus, as seen countless times in recent years, rampant misuse. More details can be read in this factsheet by Thai Netizen Network and here at iLaw.

Despite the numerous cases and victims who have been actually charged under lèse majesté, this case is being regarded as crucial since it not only highlights the vague legal interpretation of the law made possible by the ambiguous wording and highlights the challenges against a (perceived) decrease of freedom of speech, but since these comments were not made by her, her thoughts and intentions are on trial, only because she did not delete these comments quickly enough!

Foul-mouthed chat app has Thai Cultural Heralds up in arms

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 6, 2012

We thought we would hear less of Thailand’s National Knee-Jerk Outrage Machine (“กลไกสร้างปฏิกิริยาอย่างไร้ความยั้งคิดแห่งประเทศไทย”, trademark pending), also known as the Thai Cultural Heralds or ThaiMiniCult, now that that there's someone new in charge at the Ministry of Culture. But apparently it was just a matter of time, and now they're back to bemoan the perceived fall of whatever they call "Thai-ness":

The Culture Ministry is concerned about young people using the Simsimi artificial intelligence conversation program as it uses impolite and rude words.

Culture Surveillance Bureau chief Ladda Thangsupachai said on Thursday the Simsimi application is popular among smartphone users at this time and many swear words have been used in the chatting bot.

"Culture alarmed about Simsimi app", Bangkok Post, February 2, 2012

The Simsimi app in question is a multilingual chat bot by a South Korean company that gradually learns new words and phrases from its users. Simply put, the more people use it, the better it 'speaks' back to you. However, it appears that many Thai users have not taken the 'learning' part very seriously and instead taught it some naughty Thai words instead. "So what?" you may think, considering this app has been around since 2002. Why the outrage now? Well, let's see how outraged they are first:

The Simsimi artificial intelligence conversation program is causing social degeneration and creating gaps between members of the family, Culture Minister Sukumol Khunploem said Friday. (...)

"I personally think that the program reflects social problems that are very worrying. Instead of talking to or interacting with friends, people today talk to themselves and normal people don't do that.

"Many young people are using this type of program and this shows the decline in the closeness of the family ties and human interaction," said Mrs Sukumol.

"Culture blasts Simsimi app as 'not normal'", Bangkok Post, February 3, 2012

Users of the SimSimi "chat robot" application who post texts deemed libellous to other persons online face prosecution, even if the offensive remarks are generated by the program, said Thailand's Information and Communications Technology Minister Gp Captain Anudith Nakornthap.

"We will monitor the online world and take action against offenders," he said. He called on people to alert the ICT Ministry if they find libellous messages online.

"Thai gov't issues libel warning for users of chat robot", The Nation via Asian News Network, February 4, 2012

WOW! Only the Nitirat group gets so much hate at the moment! Kidding aside, it speaks volume how MICT minister Anudith has reacted to this whole selective outrage (over a chat AI, mind you!) if people post the results when they enter the name of somebody (e.g. a politician) - by simply dropping the legal hammer on them! The developers of the app have reportedly complied with the Thai authorities and agreed to remove the offensive words and phrases from it.

And about the culture minister blaming the social deterioration on a simple mobile app - aren't the problems far more deeper rooted like, um, education and a deeply anachronistic, monolithic perception of 'Thai-ness'? Nah, that's probably too complicated for an explanation and also too complicated to fix (let alone too expensive) - instead have an easy scapegoat to show that the ministry is actually doing something!

Also, how likely is it that such an app can be such detrimental to Thai society:

Amornwit Nakhonthap, an associate professor at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Education, said Simsimi was only a fad. Though the language used might be rude sometimes, there were many young people who knew the appropriate usage for such language, he said.

"Simsimi robot app too rude for some parents", The Nation, February 3, 2012

Now that's some level-headed commentary right there, absolutely rational and not over-hyping... wait, there's more...?

He urged the authorities to supervise the Internet by blocking and screening inappropriate content.

"Simsimi robot app too rude for some parents", The Nation, February 3, 2012

D'oh! I praised too soon...!

P.S.: I love how those headlines attribute the concerns to the WHOLE Thai culture!

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and also on his public Facebook page here.

Video: 'Challenging the Sovereign Narrative' - (Social) Media in the Thai Political Crisis

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 23, 2011 (Note: This post was supposed to be up much, much earlier but was pushed back due to the floods and the re-relocation of the author back to Germany. Apologies to all involved for the momentous delay!)

Back in late September I was invited to hold a talk at Payap University in Chiang Mai and I chose to talk about a (social) media topic with the focus on the the 2010 anti-government Red Shirts' Protests, the knee-jerk demonizing of foreign media and what role social media played in this, if at all.

The talk is about 45 minutes long and includes 15 minutes of Q&A. The original full abstract can be found below the video.

Again, thanks to the people at Payap University for the invitation and organizing the event, especially Adam Dedman, Jessica Loh and Paul Chambers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzrtubI8cZM

Challenging the Sovereign Narrative – Media Perceptions of the Thai Political Crisis and the (missing) Role of Social Media”

Speaker: Saksith Saiyasombut

When: Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 5-6pm

Place: Room 317, Pentecost Building, Mae Khao main campus, Payap University

The Kingdom of Thailand rarely pops up on the global news landscape and if so, then it is mostly for a so-called ‘soft’ story. In recent years though, political struggles, often escalating in violent protests on the streets of Bangkok, have dominated the airwaves of the international media outlets, only to disappear shortly after the protests have ended. With the Thai political crisis dragging on for several years now, reporters are struggling to properly report and explain the situation without simplifying this to just a color-coded conflict between two opposing groups. In particular, the anti-government Red Shirt protests of 2010 were a watershed moment for how Thailand and its political crisis are regarded, with many Thais objecting to the foreign media’s coverage, as much as to openly vilify the international TV news networks. On the other hand, the domestic media have failed in its role to objectively explain and provide context to the political developments of recent years.

The more important issue is the rise of social media to counter a sovereign narrative of the mainstream and state media – however, Thailand has yet to see a grassroots revolution fueled by the Internet. Nevertheless, online services like Twitter and Facebook provide Thais a way to read and express alternative viewpoints and also a platform to  fill the journalistic void left by other media outlets, but are threatened by the country’s ambiguously written Computer Crimes Act and lèse majesté law.

This talk looks at the perceptions of the international and domestic media of the Thai political crisis and why this struggle has not translated into an online uprising yet and aims to examine opportunities for “filling in the blanks” left by the mainstream media.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai political blogger and journalist. He wrote for his hometown newspapers Weser Kurier and Weser Report in Bremen, Germany, before working as an editorial assistant for Asia News Network and contributing reporter at The Nation. He started blogging about Thai politics on his personal website  www.saiyasombut.com in early 2010 and since September 2010, Saksith now writes for Siam Voices, a collaborative blog on Thai current affairs on the regional blog and news network Asian Correspondent. He is also currently a graduate student of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Hamburg, Germany.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and also on his public Facebook page here.