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Thailand blocks 2,300 websites for insulting monarchy

world Updated: Jan 06, 2009 10:27 IST
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Thai authorities have blocked 2,300 websites for allegedly insulting the country's revered monarchy and are waiting for court approval to restrict another 400, the government said on Tuesday.

The blocking of the websites under harsh lese majeste laws which protect King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been criticised by rights groups and media organisations in recent months.

"The blocking of websites that disseminate content and pictures which insult the monarchy is one of the government's crucial policies," Information and Communication (ICT) minister Ranongruk Suwanchawee said in a statement.

"We have blocked more than 2,300 websites. We are preparing to ask for court approval to shut down an additional 400 sites and will amend the... law to increase powers of ICT officials as soon as parliament reopens," she said.

The ministry had spent 45 million baht (1.28 million dollars) to buy equipment for a round-the-clock "war room" targeting inappropriate web sites, Ranongruk said.

The ministry would ask the ministries of justice, interior and defence to "decisively" prosecute violators, who face imprisonment and a fine for breaking the law, the minister said.

Defaming the royals in Thailand carries a a maximum jail sentence of 15 years but media groups say the law is often used as a political tool.

Thailand made headlines around the world in 2007 when it blocked the popular video-sharing website YouTube after clips started appearing mocking the 81-year-old King Bhumibol.

Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders recently accused the Thai government of using the laws that protect the monarchy to suppress dissenting voices on the Internet.

New Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva however defended the crackdown in a recent interview with AFP, saying that there were "historical and cultural differences" with other countries.

"We will respect the rights, but those rights are exercised within the same limits that even the most liberal of countries apply," Abhisit said in the interview on December 26.

The royal family's role in politics became a sensitive subject last year amid protests by a group claiming loyalty to the monarchy which opposed the previous government for being too close to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

A court verdict on December 2 effectively dissolved that government, paving the way for Abhisit to become premier mid-way through last month. Parliament is due to reconvene on January 21.