THAILAND: Critique Me Not

(This is written by new staff writer Gabriella Castro — welcome aboard, Ms. Castro!) — It seems no person, or company, is free from the lèse-majesté laws of Thailand. Google recently released its transparency report for 2012, giving the public a look into what governments around the world are trying to filter their citizens from viewing. With more than 1000 cases getting individual attention for various reasons, Thailand’s Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology (MICT) in particular has submitted to Google’s attention approximately 417 violations of lèse-majesté. Not only must Google review the websites being accused but with its latest purchase of YouTube it is stuck with reviewing an onslaught of video violations.

Google is not one to comply with just any demand; a mere 54% of requests received worldwide were formally attended to. But in the case of Thailand’s 417 requests to remove violators from public access, Google has restricted access to 307. This is well over the average number for other governments.

One may ask why Google chose to observe the requests of MICT? The logical answer is simple; respect, says a Google representative. Or is it fear? After all, the far-flung international company has an office in Bangkok and aims to be respectful of local laws. In order to continue operations in Thailand, Google and the websites it services need to be able to function in Thailand without fear of prosecution.

This may seem absurd for many Western readers because of the backlash our governments receive when the public discovers they are trying to censor our free speech. Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws, whether right or wrong, are in place – allegedly – to maintain a level of respect for figures of authority that isn’t present in the West. That’s one way of looking at the system. Another is as a method of repression.

Some say that we in the West are overly critical of our leaders. But most of us prefer a system in which one is able to freely criticize a leader, rather than be forced into silence out of false respect.

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