Thai authorities have used emergency powers to restrict access to the the Swedish based WikiLeaks whistleblower website on security grounds, an official said Wednesday, fanning controversy over Internet censorship.
The order came from the government unit set up to oversee the response to political unrest that rocked the nation’s capital earlier this year, said a spokeswoman at the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
“Access to this website has been temporarily suspended under the 2005 emergency decree,” she said.
Some users, however, reported that they were still able to access WikiLeaks within the kingdom.
Thailand made headlines around the world in 2007 when it blocked the popular video-sharing website YouTube after material appeared mocking its revered King Bhumibol.
The country has removed tens of thousands of web pages from the Internet in recent years, mainly for insulting the monarchy, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
A special cyber crime agency has also been set up to stamp out online criticism of the royal family.
Critics have complained that the authorities have responded to the recent anti-government demonstrations by widening the net to include political opponents.
Emergency rule, enshrined in Thai law since 2005, was imposed across many parts of Thailand during two months of “Red Shirt” protests in Bangkok from mid-March that left 91 people dead, ending with a bloody army crackdown.
Authorities have used the decree, which remains in place in seven out of Thailand’s 76 provinces including Bangkok, to arrest hundreds of suspects and silence anti-government media.
The ICT said it has blocked 1,340 websites on security grounds since emergency rule began in April.
Some pages of social networking site Facebook are thought to have been blocked in the recent clampdown.
Supinya Klangnarong of the Thai Netizen Network, which campaigns for web freedom, said the government should be more transparent in their reasons for blocking certain sites.
Supinya said issues surrounding the monarchy were sensitive in Thai society and blocking offensive sites could be “understandable”.
But she said the application of the rules under the emergency decree were “mixed up”.
“There should an explanation to make sure the government does not block or censor the opposition,” she said, adding that people who wanted to see certain sites or pages were often able to get around the rules.
Internet content seen as overtly critical of the monarchy has been under close scrutiny since 2006, when the Reds’ hero, fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted in a coup led by army generals.
In April 2009 a Thai court sentenced a man to 10 years in prison for posting altered pictures on the Internet that were deemed to insult the king, although he has since received a royal pardon.
Earlier this year a Red Shirt sympathiser was arrested and charged for allegedly insulting the royal family on Facebook.
WikiLeaks has been the focus of international attention in recent weeks after it released thousands of military documents on the conflict in Afghanistan.
These included claims of meetings between Pakistani spies and the Taliban and that civilian deaths caused by international forces were covered up.
They also included the names of some Afghan informants — prompting US military claims that the leaks endangered lives.