Internet freedom in Thailand is now as bad as in Burma – report

FREEDOM HOUSE’S latest ‘Freedom on the Net’ report makes for worrying reading, especially for web users in Asia, with China rated as having the least free internet in the world and web freedom in Thailand falling sharply under military rule.

Against a backdrop of worldwide erosion of internet freedom, Asian countries fared among the worst. The Internet in only two Asian countries – Japan and the Philippines – was rated as ‘Free’.

Not surprisingly, serial offender China was rated as the nation with the most restricted internet.

“The aim of establishing control was particularly evident in the [Chinese] government’s attitude toward foreign internet companies, its undermining of digital security protocols, and its ongoing erosion of user rights, including through extralegal detentions and the imposition of prison sentences for online speech,” the report said.

Southeast Asian nations showed a worrying drop in overall online freedom, with military ruled Thailand plunging to a rank of ‘63’, level with Burma (Myanmar), and worse than Russia.

“More Thai internet users were harassed and arrested during the coverage period than ever before in the wake of the 2014 coup,” the report said.

The report named Thailand’s proposed single gateway and increased arrests and longer sentences for lese majeste offences among the chief causes behind Thailand’s poor rating.

Most Southeast Asian nations were rated as ‘Partly Free’, with the Philippines the only ASEAN nation credited with truly’Free’ internet.

Overall, the report found that worldwide internet freedom has declined for the fifth consecutive year “as more governments censored information of public interest while also expanding surveillance and cracking down on privacy tools.”

It summarized:

  • Content removals increased: Authorities in 42 of the 65 countries assessed required private companies or internet users to restrict or delete web content dealing with political, religious, or social issues, up from 37 the previous year.
  • Arrests and intimidation escalated: Authorities in 40 of 65 countries imprisoned people for sharing information concerning politics, religion or society through digital networks.
  • Surveillance laws and technologies multiplied: Governments in 14 of 65 countries passed new laws to increase surveillance since June 2014 and many more upgraded their surveillance equipment.
  • Governments undermined encryption, anonymity: Democracies and authoritarian regimes alike stigmatized encryption as an instrument of terrorism, and many tried to ban or limit tools that protect privacy.

Watch the report launch here: