Thailand blocks a Web site

Access to the popular YouTube video Web site was blocked be the Thai government as a short film it carries is an insult to the country's beloved monarch.

It was one of a number of Web sites deemed insulting to the king and blocked by Thailand's military-installed government, said Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom, the minister of information and technology.

Sitthichai said YouTube was blocked Wednesday morning after its owner Google Inc. turned down his request to remove the contentious Web page, which features a 44-second clip showing graffitti-like elements painted over a slideshow of photographs of 79-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

One part of the clip juxtaposes pictures of feet over the king's image - a major cultural taboo for Thais since feet are considered extremely dirty and offensive. The soundtrack is the Thai National anthem.

"It's a serious case of lese majeste," said Sitthichai, using the legal term for the crime of offending the monarchy. "We asked Google to remove it some days ago, but they refused to."

According to Sitthichai, thousands of people had called the government to complain about the YouTube video.

If YouTube removed the clip, access to the Web site would be unblocked, he said.

Sitthichai said Google's argument for not removing the video was that U.S. President George W. Bush had been attacked more seriously on the site and those clips were not removed.

Thai authorities take insults to the king extremely seriously. A Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in jail last week in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai on lese majeste charges, after he defaced posters of the king during a drinking binge.

Sitthichai indicated the blocking of Web sites deemed offensive would continue.

"People who create these (Web sites) are abusing their rights and clearly don't mean well for the country," Sitthichai said. "We have closed many and will continue to."

He declined to say how many Web sites had already been blocked, or give the number currently under surveillance.

Critics have accused the current government of blocking Web sites criticizing the September coup that overthrew then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

However, Sitthichai said the government is only targeting sites deemed insulting to the monarchy, as well as pornographic sites.

The interim government installed after the coup has come under increasing criticism, and groups calling for an early restoration of democracy have been organizing protests.

One of the sites shut down was launched by an anti-coup group, which calls itself Saturday Voice Against Dictators, that has been holding protests demanding coup leaders transfer power to a democratically elected government.

Sitthichai said he had ordered fewer than 10 sites blocked since taking office late last year, either because their content constituted lese majeste, they were pornographic or they called for public political protests, which are illegal under martial law proclaimed after last year's coup.

However, at least a dozen Web sites with political content have been blocked, some temporarily, since the coup. After CNN had an interview earlier this year with ousted Prime Minister Thaksin, the link on its Web site with the report was apparently blocked, though the action was not officially acknowledged.

In February last year, the Web site of the Thai police department said that 32,612 "illicit" Web sites had been reported and subsequently blocked since April 2002. More recent statistics were not readily available.

Thailand has no comprehensive law governing the Internet, and limits governing use and censorship are not clearly defined.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova