Censorship Woes of an Expat Abroad

Censorship in the Name of the King

Life is good for an expat like myself living abroad. Although I haven’t been in Thailand long I am already thoroughly enjoying the lifestyle. One thing I did not foresee, however, is the rampant censorship that the constitutional monarchy has imposed here. And I do mean rampant. Before 2006 Thailand only blocked pornographic sites. Since Thailand’s 2006 coups d’état, censorship has exploded. 2010 estimates put the blocked websites at 113,000. A year later Thailand opened a dedicated department of their government known as the Cyber Security Operation Center. By early 2014 they had requested ISP’s to block at least another 22,000 URLs. Most of the sites have been blocked because of lèse majesté content; or those websites that Thai’s find defamatory or threatening to the royal family. This has led to sites such as Wikipedia’s page on their King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, to be blocked. The government has also been known to block certain stories from BBC One and Two, CNN, and Yahoo! News. They blocked Facebook for at least a day on May 28, 2014, and blocked the Human Rights Watch’s Thailand page. The censorship does not stop at blocking websites. Like China, the Thai government has been known to block and monitor instant messaging services and arrests bloggers.  There is also a blacklist of over 200 names that are not allowed to post to the internet. The government then bans all websites containing any content from these authors. As a matter of fact, Thailand is ranked 130th out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. For comparison, the United States is ranked 46th, and the United Kingdom is ranked 33rd (the lower the number the better the score). I was surprised to find out that Thailand’s rank is so low that most of the countries ranked worse are those in the Middle East: with notable, but not surprising, exceptions being China, Vietnam, Mexico, and the Russian Federation.

One of the censorship images used in Thailand when trying to access blocked content.

One of the images used in Thailand when trying to access blocked content.

What Does it All Mean?

Well for starters sometimes getting the full the picture of what is happening in their own country given censorship of all kinds of media is made more difficult. Imagine your local and national news stations being abruptly shut down by the military. This is exactly what happened in the May 2014 military coups d’état when the Thai military stormed and shut down 10 television stations. They were only allowed to reopen after agreeing to censor themselves. And given the broad powers given by the constitution to prosecute those accused of lèse majesté it is amazingly easy to be arrested and convicted of lèse majesté. Since the latest military coup the country has fallen into a sort of political dictatorship with centralized power in the hands of one man who continues to push back the next election. In fact, as I write this in a café near my condo, I moved to a corner where no one could see what I was researching and writing about. You’ll be surprised how much English the average Thai knows. I also made sure to use LiquidVPN so that I was surfing the web anonymously and securely. Call me paranoid, but the Thai government is serious, and I’d rather not become a statistic.

The truth is, using a VPN as great as LiquidVPN is not just reserved for those like me, living in a foreign country afraid of being arrested. The UK also has an extensive list of blocked sites that can be unblocked using a VPN. Those in the UK, US, and elsewhere have the additional benefit of shielding themselves from the prying eyes of the National Security Agency (NSA) and UK’s equivalent, Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ). Using a VPN is becoming less of an option and more of a requirement all over the world because the government is watching.

Featured image courtesy of blog.softwaremedia.com.