Thailand lifts 5-month YouTube ban

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand has lifted a five-month ban on the video-sharing Web site YouTube after it agreed to block any video clips deemed offensive to the nation’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Information and Communications Technology Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom this week instructed the Web site ban be lifted after YouTube owner Google installed filters to stop Thais from accessing clips insulting the 79-year-old monarch, a ministry official said.

Insulting royalty is a serious offence in Thailand.

YouTube said in May it had decided, after an agreement with the Thai government, to block some offending clips but it took several months to implement it.

Thailand then sent YouTube’s management a list of 12 video clips it deemed offensive. Six of the clips were removed by their creators or because they violated YouTube’s “code of service”, YouTube said in a statement.

The first king-bashing clip appeared a few days after a 57-year-old Swiss man received a 10-year jail sentence for spraying graffiti on pictures of the king on his birthday in December -- a rare conviction of a foreigner.

Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch who has been on the throne for more than 60 years, has since granted a pardon and the Swiss man has been deported.

YouTube’s response to Thailand’s request spurred debates about freedom of expression on the Internet.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) said in an e-mail message that YouTube’s move to deny Thais access to offending clips raised implications of its collusion with the country to censor a popular global platform.

“Any such collusion could potentially be open for abuse, and thereby only exacerbate concerns over free speech over the Internet,” SEAPA said.

“The cooperation between Google/YouTube and the Thai government could conceivably become a template sought by other governments that have had run-ins with sensitive content on the video-sharing site,” it said.