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'Worse than Singapore for Internet censorship'


Canadian academic plays a key role in Thai campaign for unfettered access to 'controversial' sites



Thailand's leading figure in the ongoing campaign against Internet censorship, CJ Hinke, talks to The Nation's Pravit Rojanaphruk about the alarming increase in the government's censorship in cyberspace.



Though you have been living in Thailand for more than a decade, you're Canadian born. Isn't it strange that a foreigner is leading a Thai campaign?



I think that everyone has a responsibility to make the place where they live better. And the fact that a foreigner has seen the problem doesn't make it less important. I first became aware of this issue, because it impacted on my own academic research. I was also mentioning it to Thais.



The coup leaders claim they are work-ing to restore democracy. Why then should they block some Internet websites critical of the coup?



In fact, the Thaksin administration was the first to block Internet websites. When I started to fight this, it was in fact against that administration. I actually had high hopes for the coup makers. But they even set up and named the official censors. I find it horrifying in terms of human rights.



To give you the idea of the importance of how the coup leaders regard censorship the fifth announcement by the coup leaders was to direct the Ministry of Information and Technology to block websites.



It seems to me that their real goal is a hidden political agenda that they want to suppress anyone who's critical. I think criticism is wonderful thing. It's what make us human. It's what make democracy works. This government [is] out of control. Once you start to censor, where do you stop? And this is the first time where the death penalty is being instituted for cyber crime.



What can the public do to improve the situation?



On November 15, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) filed a petition to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). There are 120 names on the petition and they're from every walk of Thai life; a huge range of people, all of whom are concerned about what it is going to do to democracy.



If we aren't fully informed, how can we make informed decisions?



How does the Thai situation compare to countries known for heavy censorship, like China and Singapore?



Singapore doesn't block any websites, despite their hugely authoritarian worldview, whereas in Thailand we purport to be democratic and then we don't allow people any freedom.



In China, there are 100,000 government censors. They are civil servants employed just to block websites.



Here in Thailand, we don't know how many civil servants are blocking websites because they won't tell us. They also won't tell us what websites they're blocking. They won't tell what criteria they're using.



In Thailand, it's worse because it's so hypocritical. We claim to support democracy and then we won't allow people to find out things for themselves.



The junta claim that Thaksin is behind some of the anti-coup websites. Should this be regarded as a sound reason for blocking or destroying the content?



There is all kind of crazy stuff on the Internet, some of it true, some of it not. Does that mean that we should be protected from that? Does that mean that the government should treat us as children?



I don't believe in any form of censorship. The behaviour of the present government is one of insecurity. What are they afraid of? What have they got to hide?



Some people say Thai culture is more supportive to censorship due to the patronage system and a conflict avoidance attitude.



I think that it's up to every individual to censor their own lives for themselves. This is not the prerogative of government. Don't like that newspaper, don't read it. Don't like that movie, don't watch it. There's no need for interference from the government.

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