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China’s Internet Suppression Tactics Diffuse into Southeast Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
September 4, 2013

Anti-government protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks use an iPad in front of riot policemen during a rally outside a shopping mall in Bangkok on June 9, 2013. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters) Anti-government protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks use an iPad in front of riot policemen during a rally outside a shopping mall in Bangkok on June 9, 2013. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters)

In an excellent new piece on Voice of America (VOA) news, Steve Herman analyzes how several nations in Southeast Asia appear to be moving to “emulate China” in the way that these countries, like China, regulate and harshly restrict social media. In Thailand, for example, which has one of the harshest climate for Internet speech in the world—despite being theoretically a democracy—the government is now moving to crack down on Facebook users who just post or “like” any articles that could be deemed insulting to the Thai monarchy. Unlike in most other countries that still have lèse-majesté laws on the books, Thailand actually enforces its  lèse-majesté laws, and anyone—not just the king, queen, and other royals—can file a lèse-majesté charge against anyone else in Thailand. As a result, the  lèse-majesté law has become an oppressive tool of political repression by all sides in Thailand’s never ending political drama.

As VOA notes, a well-known Thai journalist, Sermsuk Kasitipradit, is now being questioned by police for some of his Facebook postings. Senior Thai officials also have publicly warned that simply “liking” something on Facebook that could be deemed offensive to the monarchy will result in potential prosecutions under lèse-majesté and computer crimes laws.

Similarly, Vietnam just passed a  new law, Decree 72, which apparently prohibits people from posting news articles on social media or blogs. Vietnam’s new law requires any posts on social media to be related only to personal information. There is little doubt that the Vietnamese authorities will enforce the new laws on social media; over the past four years, Vietnam already has been engaged in one of the harshest crackdowns in the world on bloggers posting items on politics, land grabbing, or other sensitive issues.

Are Thailand, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian countries just emulating China’s restrictions on social media? Or is there a more direct connection? Vietnam routinely sends senior officials to China to learn about many aspects of Chinese governance, including Internet monitoring and control. So, it is not unreasonable to assume that officials in Vietnam have modeled their social media strategy directly on tactics learned in China. Similarly, Thai officials have traveled on several occasions to China to study the way China monitors and controls social media and microblogging, so—again— it’s not unreasonable to think that Thailand is modeling its policy on tactics Thai officials have personally seen in China.

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  • Posted by fdawei

    These earth-shattering and chilling revelations of curtailing free speech shouldn’t surprise anyone who is a close observer of the events of the past months in every corner of the world.

    Free speech has now become an archaic expression, as have the words free, freedom and liberty.

    Nations in Asia look to China for “leadership” in the arena of monitoring and suppression, while we in the west, until recently, prided ourselves on being immune from such vile and underhanded intrusions into our daily life.

    Thankfully, Manning and Snowden were there to undo the lies of the leaders of the western nations and their sycophant allies in government and business, yet both of these young people have been vilified and hung out to dry for their daring to expose and oppose those in power.

    We are under siege!

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