WEB CENSORING WIDENS ACROSS SOUTHEAST ASIA

September 15, 2009

Attempts to censor the Internet are spreading to Southeast Asia as governments turn to coercion and intimidation to rein in online criticism, says the Wall Street Journal.

Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam lack the kind of technology and financial resources that China and some other large countries use to police the Internet.  The Southeast Asian nations are using other methods -- also seen in China -- to tamp down criticism, including arresting some bloggers and individuals posting contentious views online.

That is distressing free-speech advocates who had hoped that Southeast Asia -- until recently a region where Internet use was relatively unfettered -- would become a model of open debate in the developing world as its economies modernize.

  • Malaysia has recently used its colonial-era Internal Security Act, which allows detention for up to two years without trial, to muzzle bloggers.
  • Thailand is ramping up its reliance on a recently introduced Computer Crimes Act to restrict criticism of its royal family and limit the spread of what the government calls seditious material.
  • Vietnam, an authoritarian Communist state, has been arresting people caught posting thoughts that run contrary to government policy, and has detained lawyers who try to defend them.

"A number of governments in the region have discovered they can't use technology alone to block out dissent because people will always find a way around it," says Roby Alampay, executive director of a Bangkok-based media advocacy group, the Southeast Asia Press Alliance.  "Instead they are trying to send out the message that the government is watching what their citizens are up to, and many of these arrests are deliberately high-profile."

To be sure, not every government in the region is trying to bolt down the Internet, says the Journal:

  • Singapore, where mainstream media are largely controlled by the government, has taken a relatively hands-off approach to the Internet.
  • The governments of Indonesia and the Philippines don't limit political content on the Internet in their countries.

Source: James Hookway, "Web Censoring Widens Across Southeast Asia; Governments Lacking Technical Means Use Coercion and Intimidation in Efforts to Suppress Criticism Online," Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2009.

 

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