Countries like Thailand, Turkey and Kuwait are especially sensitive to incendiary remarks because their governments and religions depend on each other’s survival. This sensitivity often curtails citizens’ free speech and damages foreign business relations. And, even in democratic countries like the U.S., religious and political interdependence often spurs lawmakers to turn to censorship, highlighting the broad reach of the issue.
Outcry over a legal case in Thailand demonstrates the mounting tension between modern mobile technology and long-standing cultural more. Last month, Chiranuch Premchaiporn received prison time for failing to censor user comments that criticized the country’s royalty.
Thailand has strict “lese-majeste” laws that prohibit the expression of criticism against royalty in both print, television, radio and Internet media. The law punishes violators with jail time for each insult of the king, queen, or heir.
The webmaster, who manages a news website, must serve an eight-month prison term for failing to cut an offensive comment from her site in under eleven days.
The reader’s comment insulted Thailand’s king, 84-year-old Bhumibol Adulyadej, whom many in the country deeply revere as a demi-god. Although Premchaiporn did not post the material, she is responsible for its message under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act, a law which criminalizes hosting anti-monarchical content and puts content providers like Premchaiporn at risk for prison time if they fail to censor such comments quickly.
The court reduced Premchaiporn’s sentence because of her cooperation, but Thailand’s standard penalty is one year in jail per offensive comment posted.
The sentence reflects Thailand’s long history of censorship, which is gaining attention and sparking controversy as technology advances in the digital age. Lese-majeste laws are also coming under fire with demands for reform due to the recent death of a 62-year-old man who was serving a 20-year jail sentence for insulting the king. A petition of almost 27,000 signatures calling for reform of the laws was delivered to the Thai parliament yesterday in response to the man’s death.