What do these countries have in common?
Thailand, Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea
Answer: They all have great legal systems to guarantee free speech for those who respect the state and leader. You can tell from the excellent placements in several recent global rankings.
Freedom House, Global Press Freedom Ranking, 2011
Thailand (138th), Saudi Arabia (177th), China (184th), North Korea (196th) out of 196 countries.
Reporters Without Borders, Press Freedom Index, 2010
Thailand (153th), Saudi Arabia (157th), China (171th), North Korea (177th) out of 178 countries.
Let’s go into some details.
A 20-year jail sentence was given for sending 4 messages violating the lese majesty law. A website administrator received a 13-year sentence, because his comments were considered insulting to the King. Article 112 of the Penal Code states that a person who insults or disrespects the monarchy will face a 3 – 15 year jail term. Article 14 in the Computer Crimes Act has been used to suppress websites which violate the lese majesty law. We even have “cyber warriors” to report on bad websites.
These are good methods to ensure that people will only express their utmost love and respect for the King. And there is no possibility whatsoever for any kind of abuses of the law to punish political dissenters.
Bloggers and journalists who speak against the royal family and religious authorities are arrested. Books and authors deemed offensive are banned. All international internet traffic goes through a state institution first.
Most of the media is aware of the restrictions, so they take care not to publish anything that might offend the authorities. This is fair and just. The bad people who disrespects the monarchy and disagrees with the government shouldn’t have a chance to express themselves.
Rights lawyers, journalists and activists who criticize the government are arrested and “dissappeared” by the police. The Great Internet Firewall of China is well-known.
In this way, unwanted views from both domestic and international sources can be shut off. Good job! If you don’t have anything good to say about the government, just keep it to yourself. And some topics, like democracy and student uprisings, are definitely off-limits. The state knows what kind of information its citizens should have.
People are arrested for “listening to foreign broadcasts” and “possessing dissident publications” which are crimes against the state and their perpetual Great Leader. The media is totally owned by the state. The internet is cut off, except for a select few.
This system is the greatest! It’s the only way to make sure that everybody will love the state and the Great Leader. No one can have anything but positive thoughts about the Leader. Isn’t this wonderful?
In each of these countries and some others, citizens are totally free to express themselves, as long as they don’t say anything against the people in charge. After all, you can’t have freedom of expression without a few rules, right? And who would know better about setting the rules than the people in charge themselves?
We are not Saudi Arabia, China or North Korea. At least, not yet. But we’re less different from them than you think.