Thailand's government said on Monday it plans to set up an Internet firewall to block Web sites deemed insulting to the country's beloved monarch, as well as others considered to have inappropriate content.
Communications Minister Mun Patanotai said his ministry is considering spending between 100 million and 500 million baht ($2.9 million and $14.6 million) to build a gateway to monitor and block such Web sites.
The ministry has received more than 1,000 complaints about Web sites that are deemed offensive to the royal family, Mun said, but he declined to give details about them, saying the issue is "sensitive."
"Revealing them would encourage Internet users to visit them," he told reporters, adding that the ministry's gateway will initially target mostly sites that violate lese majeste laws. "But it can also monitor and block pornographic or terrorism-related sites."
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, but has severe lese majeste laws, mandating a jail term of 3 to 15 years for whoever "defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the Regent." Actual prosecutions are relatively rare.
There is already blocking of Web sites, but it is done in a haphazard manner, mostly by Internet service providers who are provided with a blacklist by the authorities.
A Computer Crime Act instituted last year gave police a legal basis for enforcing censorship of the Internet and provides penalties for attempting to circumvent it.
Mun's comment came ahead of a meeting Wednesday to discuss the measure.
The minister said authorities will also discuss the issue with intelligence units and state telecommunications companies. Mun said more than 80 percent of the inappropriate Web sites are from foreign countries.
The effort to block Web sites deemed offensive to the monarchy came amid a prolonged political crisis in Thailand.
Given the king's great popularity and power, both anti-government protesters and government supporters claim loyalty to the monarchy.
Anti-government protesters flaunt their loyalty to King Bhumibol Adulyadej by wearing yellow, which represents the day of his birth according Thai tradition. They accuse former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies of trying to usurp the king's central role.
Thaksin, who was toppled in a coup in 2006, has denied the accusation, saying that it was merely one of the excuses to remove him from power.
Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, an ally of Thaksin, warned earlier Tuesday that Thais should not involve the monarchy in politics and that those who do would be prosecuted.
"The government, officials, military, police, and every Thai must all uphold the monarchy," he told reporters. "No faction should use the monarchy."
On the Web:
English-language translation of Thailand's Computer Crime Act: