TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 27

1. A reimagined NATO – with rapid response capability – could balance the Putin doctrine.

By David Francis in Foreign Policy

2. Hold the bucket: Focusing on a single disease isn’t a good use of philanthropy dollars.

By Felix Salmon in Slate

3. The Navy’s audacious plan for a new warfighting vessel was too good to be true. The result is a ship that meets none of our needs well. Cancel the Littoral Combat Ship.

By William D. Hartung and Jacob Marx at the Center for International Policy

4. The conventional wisdom is that social media stimulates debate, but self-censorship online actually leads to a ‘spiral of silence.’

By Keith Hampton, Lee Rainie, Weixu Lu, Maria Dwyer, Inyoung Shin and Kristen Purcell at the Pew Research Internet Project

5. Better living through design: Injectable, long-acting birth control will revolutionize family planning in the developing world.

By Heather Hansman in Pacific Standard

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME China

Want Some Entertainment in China? Don’t Turn On the TV

CHINA-ECONOMY
This photo taken on July 15, 2014 shows a couple watching TV in their apartment in Beijing. GREG BAKER—AFP/Getty Images

China’s TV and film watchdog has ordered a dull diet of nationalist fare ahead of the country's National Day in October

There’s nothing like coming home from work, plopping down in front of the TV and watching some relaxing antifascist and patriotic fare. That’s exactly the kind of prime-time programming China’s TV and film watchdog is ordering up for September and October, according to state media. One reason for this propaganda blitz? National Day falls on Oct. 1 and a line-up of TV shows glorifying, say, the Communist Party’s fight against the Japanese during World War II, will hopefully usher in a wave of jingoistic pride among citizens.

Earlier this year, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (commonly known by its previous acronym SARFT) also urged TV stations to present entertainment that propagated President Xi Jinping’s ideological catchphrase, the “Chinese Dream.” Applicable programming, according to the official Xinhua News Agency, includes such delights as a program on the navy’s activities in the Gulf of Aden and a 48-episode series on the life and times of Deng Xiaoping, the late leader who spearheaded the nation’s economic reforms. (Deng would have celebrated his 110th birthday on Aug. 22.)

What exactly constitutes patriotic programming? The China Daily, the government’s English-language mouthpiece and no stranger itself to jingoistic content, reported that “patriotic TV shows should promote the protection of the home country, as well as entrepreneurship and innovation.” As for antifascist TV material, anything to do with World War II, or what China calls the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, should do nicely.

Smaller TV stations will have more latitude than major networks in controlling their schedules. They can, for instance, reserve patriotic programming for prime time and relegate anti-fascist material to less coveted time slots, according to the China Daily. On Aug. 13, the China Youth Network also assured viewers that the premieres of a couple highly anticipated TV dramas shouldn’t be affected. Nevertheless, one user of Weibo, China’s microblogging platform, quipped “The authorities force the masses to watch such rubbish. Who is the fascist here but SARFT?”

Chinese viewers have been clamoring for TV programming with modern entertainment value in recent years — just as censors have begun clamping down. In 2011, as China celebrated the 90th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party, SARFT railed against films and shows that depicted time travel because they were “treating serious history in a frivolous way.”

Then, in April of this year, authorities began restricting foreign material that could be watched through streaming websites. A particular favorite was the geeky U.S. sit-com The Big Bang Theory, which racked up 1.3 billion views in China before it was banned. (The Good Wife, NCIS and The Practice were also targeted.)

Other areas of online space have been encroached on. Weibo has lost some of its edge because of industrious censorship and a crackdown on its more high-profile users. This month, the crackdown was extended to mobile instant messaging services, like the hugely popular WeChat.

As for the upcoming two months of antifascist and patriotic TV, even the Global Times, a Beijing-based daily that often takes a nationalist line, grumbled in an Aug. 15 article. “It is also an administrative order,” the story reported, “that many TV shows producers often see as ‘annoying.’”

Imagine how the people who are expected to tune in to such partisan programming feel.

with reporting by Gu Yongqiang/Beijing

TIME Video Games

Google Removes ‘Bomb Gaza’ Game From Play Store

Google Play

The company has removed several other games related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent days, claiming they violate the the Google Play store's policies.

In Bomb Gaza, a game about doing precisely what its peremptory title commands, you play as the Israeli Air Force, tapping a touchscreen to pour red-nosed bombs into a 2D multi-level landscape filled with cartoonish people wearing white robes and clutching children — meant to signify civilians — as well as others draped in black, clutching rifles, touting greenish headbands and grinning maniacally. The goal is to hit those black-garbed militants — presumably members of Palestinian militant group Hamas — while avoiding the white-clad civilians.

At some point in the past 24 hours, Google removed Bomb Gaza from its Android Play store (the game was released on July 29). It’s not clear why. Google’s only officially saying what companies like it so often say when handed political hot potatoes: that it doesn’t comment on specific apps, but that it removes ones from its store that violate its policies. The game’s dismissal comes just as Israel says it’s pulling out of Gaza in observance of a three-day ceasefire, on the heels of a month-long fight that has to date left nearly 1,900 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and 67 Israelis (mostly soldiers) dead.

It’s unclear which of Google’s policies Bomb Gaza might have infringed, but in Google’s Developer Program Policies document, it notes under a subsection titled Violence and Bullying that “Depictions of gratuitous violence are not allowed,” and that “Apps should not contain materials that threaten, harass or bully other users.” Under another titled Hate Speech, Google writes “We don’t allow content advocating against groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity.”

Bomb Gaza isn’t the only Gaza-centric game Google’s removed: another, dubbed Gaza Assault: Code Red is about dropping bombs on Palestinians using Israeli drones. Its designers describe the game as “[bringing] you to the forefront of the middle-east conflict, in correlation to ongoing real world events.” It was also just yanked, as was another titled Whack the Hamas, in which players have to target Hamas members as they pop out of tunnels.

Politically-themed games about touchy current issues have been around for years, from depictions of deadly international situations like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to others modeled on flashpoints like school shootings. In late 2008, a game called Raid Gaza! appeared around the time Israel was carrying out “Operation Cast Lead,” a conflict that left 13 Israelis and some 1,400 Palestinians dead. In that title, you’re tasked with killing as many Palestinians as you can in three minutes, and actually afforded bonuses for hitting civilian targets, all while listening to a version of the Carpenter’s saccharine “Close to You.”

But the game wasn’t merely a pro-Israeli celebration of violence against Palestinians, it was a pointed editorial reflection on the horrors of the Gaza conflict. As games critic Ian Bogost wrote at the time:

The game is headstrong, suffering somewhat from its one-sided treatment of the issue at hand. But as an editorial, it is a fairly effective one both as opinion text and as game. It is playable and requires strategy, the exercise of which carries the payload of commentary.

Other games about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persist: There’s Peacemaker, a more serious and simulation-angled game about the conflict that its developers say was designed “to promote peace.” Another, called Iron Dome (still available on Google’s Play store), lets players intercept incoming rockets using Israel’s eponymous missile defense system. A third, called Rocket Pride (also still available on Google’s Play store), lets players provide “support for the besieged Gaza Strip” by firing rockets at targets in Israel. There’s clearly a winnowing process here, in other words, with Google favoring some apps but not others. It’s just not clear what that process is.

I haven’t played Bomb Gaza, so I can’t speak to its efficacy as either a game or an editorial commentary (or whether it was even intended as the latter). When I reached out to the game’s creator, he told me it had been “developed without any budget” and “more for fun,” and that he was “very surprised to catch such attention with it.”

But the game’s removal raises older questions that we need to keep asking: Should companies like Google remove politically charged games because passerby find them offensive? Are we overreacting to some of these games instead of taking the time to consider whether they’re intended as satirical (be it nuanced or crude, successful or misguided)? Are games that depict violence related to a current event fundamentally so different from caustic political cartoons or scathing op-eds? And should companies like Apple and Google and Amazon — and thereby the swiftly narrowing channels through which we’re acquiring more and more of our content — also be the arbiters of what’s morally tasteful?

TIME Video Games

Thailand Bans Tropico 5 City-Building Game Over Security Concerns

Kalypso Media Group

The military-ruled country is banning an irreverent PC strategy game in which you play as a dictator, fending off military coups, rigging elections and ruling with a iron fist

If you live in Thailand, it looks like you’ll have to find a way around the country’s military junta if you want to play Tropico 5.

The Associated Press, citing a game distributor, reports that censors in Thailand operating on behalf of the country’s military leaders have put the kibosh on sales of developer Haemimont Games’ city-building simulation because it might “hurt the country’s security.”

Thailand’s military launched a coup against the civilian government on May 22, 2014, and currently holds sway under the rubric of a group called the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The NCPO has been cracking down on what it views as radical elements in the media and online ever since, and the junta’s film and video censorship wing reportedly opted to block sales of Tropico 5 over concerns it “might affect peace and order in the country.”

That’s presumably because Tropico 5 — the fifth in a long-running series of PC-based city-building games — is about ruling a Caribbean island as “El Presidente” soup to nuts, including dictatorial maneuvers like rigging elections, strong-arming the media and pretty much doing whatever floats your boat. The goal is less about improving the lives of your citizens than staying in power, fending off military coups and steering clear of Cold War superpowers.

It’s not clear what about Tropico 5 specifically so worried the junta’s censorship office that it banned the game outright, but the distributor cited by AP notes prior series installments were sold in the country. And it’s worth noting that while measures like these indicate a much harsher stance, the country’s long-standing censorship practices, which range from sanitizing or outright banning certain books and magazines, media stories, Internet URLs, television shows and films, predate the May coup.

TIME China

China Now Says Almost 100 Were Killed in Xinjiang Violence

China Steps Up Security Following Xinjiang Unrest
Chinese soldiers march in front of the Id Kah Mosque, China's largest, in Kashgar, on July 31, 2014. China has increased security in many parts of restive Xinjiang following some of the worst violence in months Kevin Frayer—Getty Images

Tensions in China's northwestern frontier region are escalating rapidly

It took a week, but authorities have finally released a death toll for the violence that rocked China’s far northwestern frontier on July 28. Early reports said “dozens” were killed or injured; now the government says nearly 100 were killed, and 215 arrested, making it the deadliest single incident since riots hit Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region’s capital, Urumqi, in 2009. But even as more details are released, questions remain about what, exactly, happened in Shache County (also known as Yarkand in the Uighur language). And with the area shut to foreign journalists, and Internet access spotty across the region, those questions will be difficult to answer.

As TIME reported last week, there are at least two competing accounts of what happened in Shache — and neither feels complete. Some 24 hours after the unrest, China’s official newswire Xinhua issued a breaking-news alert stating that dozens had been killed or injured in a premeditated terrorist attack on a police station in Xinjiang. After local officials discovered a cache of explosives, state media said, knife-wielding mobs went on a rampage, killing civilians and torching several vehicles. One report speculated that the attack was timed to coincide with a commodity fair.

The official narrative has changed in the interim. The latest details released by Chinese authorities suggest the incident was both more severe, and less isolated, than it initially seemed. State media now put the death toll at 96, including 37 civilians, and 59 people identified as terrorists. The violence “was preceded by a large-scale police crackdown in Hotan,” reported the Global Times, and was “followed” by the murder, in Kashgar, of an imam with ties to the government. Chinese news outlets say the unrest was coordinated by extremists with links to a group called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, and that banners calling for jihad were found at the scene.

Other groups paint a strikingly different picture. An early report by Uighur-speaking Radio Free Asia reporters Shohret Hoshur and Eset Sulaiman said the uprising was linked to restrictions during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the alleged extrajudicial killing of a Uighur family. In their account — which here bears some similarity to the government’s narrative — knife- and ax-wielding Uighurs went on a rampage and were subsequently gunned down by Chinese police. A representative from the World Uyghur Congress, an overseas exile group, presented a slightly different story, saying the armed Uighurs were in fact protesters speaking out against the Ramadan restrictions, not rioters per se.

The divergent accounts say much about the divisions affecting Xinjiang, and the difficulty of reporting on the area. The vast area known as Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region is the homeland of the mostly Muslim, Turkic Uighur people, but is claimed also as Chinese territory. Since coming to power, the Chinese Communist Party has sent waves of migrants to Xinjiang in an attempt to settle its far west; in 1949, China’s ethnic Han majority accounted for only about 6% of the population; today, the figure is more than 40%. The government says it is bringing prosperity to the region, but many ethnic Uighurs say they have been cut off from the economic benefits and resent restrictions on freedom of movement and their right to practice their faith. A small minority has waged a decades-long struggle against Chinese authorities, often targeting police stations or transport hubs.

Over the past year, the conflict has intensified considerably. In October 2013, an SUV carrying three ethnic Uighurs plowed through tourists in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing five, including the occupants. In March 2014, a group of black-clad, knife-wielding attackers slashed its way through a busy train station in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, killing 29. Chinese authorities blamed that incident, and two subsequent ambushes in the regional capital, Urumqi, on terrorist groups with overseas ties. Little information has been released about the perpetrators or their victims. And with much of Xinjiang closed to foreign reporters, the government’s account is difficult to independently confirm.

The central government has responded by tightening already stringent security measures and stepping up efforts to integrate Uighurs — by force, if necessary. There are police trucks and officers in riot gear in town squares across the region, and many towns, particularly in Uighur-dominated southwest Xinjiang, are now sealed off by police checkpoints. The physical lockdown has come with curbs on religious practice, including attempts to ban civil servants from fasting during Ramadan and, reportedly, efforts to stop Uighur women from covering their hair.

The authorities are calling the latest crackdown a “people’s war” on terrorism, urging — and in many cases, paying — people to come forward with information about suspicious activity. The government recently announced it would offer 300 million yuan ($48.6 million), in cash for “hunting terrorists.” At a recent ceremony in the city of Hotan, 10,000 local officials and civilians were given some 4.23 million yuan ($685,000) for their trouble. Critics worry, however, that the scheme will only deepen distrust between Uighurs and the Han-dominated central government, turning neighbors against each other and potentially criminalizing certain religious practices that have nothing to do with organized terrorism.

Meanwhile, amid calls for calm, the government’s rhetoric is heating up. In the wake of the latest attack, Xinjiang party secretary Zhang Chunxian, promised an even tougher crackdown to come. “We have to hit hard, hit accurately and hit with awe-inspiring force,” he said. “To fight such evils we must aim at extermination. To cut weeds we must dig out the roots.”

The statement was no doubt designed to reassure people that the government has the situation under control. Somehow, though, the nihilistic imagery feels more like a warning of more conflict, and violence, to come.

TIME Singapore

Singapore Has Banned an Archie Comic for Depicting a Gay Wedding

In an installment of Life With Archie first published in 2012, the franchise tackled the issue of gay marriage head on — by putting it on the cover. The Hollywood Reporter

A recent crackdown on publications discussing homosexuality sheds light on Singapore's traditional moral values and notoriously restricted press

State media censors in Singapore have banned the sale of an Archie comic book for its frank presentation of gay marriage, a matter that remains socially taboo and legally verboten in Southeast Asia’s most developed state.

Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA) censored the comic book, first published in January 2012, earlier this year, but the ban is only just now coming to light — a week after another state agency removed three children’s books promoting tolerance of same-sex relationships from the national library’s shelves.

The third installment in Archie: The Married Life, one of several spinoff series in the multifarious Archie universe, features the wedding of Kevin Keller, a gay character whose creation in 2010 earned writer Dan Parent a GLAAD Media Award last year. (In the latest volume, Archie dies taking a bullet for Kevin, now a U.S. Senator.)

As critic Alyssa Rosenberg noted Wednesday in The Washington Post, the 75-year-old comic book franchise has in recent years adopted a distinctly political subtext, taking on issues of topical significance as they come: Kevin, a gay solider, was introduced as the Obama administration was deliberating the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; Archie’s interracial marriage made the cover in 2012.

Social progressivism isn’t really Singapore’s forte, though.

“[We]… found its content to be in breach of guidelines because of its depiction of the same sex marriage of two characters in the comic,” an MDA spokesperson said in a statement to TIME. “We thus informed the local distributor not to import or distribute the comic in retail outlets.”

In its guidelines for imported publications, the MDA prohibits comics and other illustrated material that depict or discuss “alternative lifestyles or deviant sexual practices,” listing homosexuality as an example of such (alongside “group sex and sadomasochism”).

Such stringent regulations are par for the course in Singapore, where social conservatism reigns supreme and strict curbs are placed on the dissemination of information. The country ranks 149th of the 179 countries listed in the 2013 Press Freedom Index — between Iraq and Vladimir Putin’s Russia — earning it the distinction of having the least free press of any developed economy in the world.

Concerning the recent purge of homosexual content, though, these restrictions may not be completely unwelcome. Sodomy, although rarely prosecuted, is criminalized as an act of “gross indecency,” and the majority of citizens, according to one survey, still take a “conservative approach” to marital and family matters. Indeed, the MDA claims to predicate its censorship decisions upon “public feedback or complaints,” and only turned its attention to the Archie comic after receiving a number of grievances.

TIME Singapore

Singapore Provokes Outrage by Pulping Kids’ Books About Gay Families

Toddler plays with bubbles as participants wait to take part in the forming of a giant pink dot at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore
A toddler plays with bubbles during the Pink Dot parade at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore June 28, 2014. Edgar Su—Reuters

One of the books, the multi-award winning And Tango Makes Three, recounts the real life-inspired story of two male penguins raising a baby chick at New York's Central Park Zoo

The Singapore government has ordered the National Library Board (NLB) to remove from library shelves and destroy three children’s books that portray gay, lesbian or unconventional families.

The multi-award winning And Tango Makes Three recounts the real life-inspired story of two male penguins raising a baby chick at New York’s Central Park Zoo. The other two banned titles are The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, which features a lesbian couple, and Who’s In My Family: All About Our Families, which describes unconventional parental set-ups.

The move has resulted in a torrent of opposition in mainstream and social media, the latter largely via the #FreeMyLibrary hashtag. An open letter criticizing the ban has also received more than 4,000 signatures.

“This is a very unfortunate step backwards,” Kirpal Singh, associate professor of English Literature at Singapore Management University, tells TIME. “While we try to balance the conservatives and liberal minded, do we remove anything or everything that gives offense, especially if this offense is quite problematic, quite complex?”

Homosexuality is a sensitive subject in ostensibly modern Singapore. Gay sex remains illegal but is rarely prosecuted, and an estimated 26,000 revelers thronged this year’s annual Pink Dot gay rights rally — one of the largest public gatherings of any sort seen in recent years. Nevertheless, society remains conservative.

According to a NLB statement, “We take a cautious approach, particularly in books and materials for children. NLB’s understanding of family is consistent with that of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education.”

The ban was reportedly spurred by a complaint from a single library user who is also a member of the Facebook group “We Are Against Pinkdot in Singapore.”

The NLB boasts a collection of more than five million books and audio-visual materials, and a spokesperson told Channel News Asia that it acts on less than a third of the 20 or so removal requests received each year. (James Patterson’s Kill Me If You Can, which depicts incest, was the subject of a complaint but remains on the shelves.)

Naturally, gay rights activists are outraged. “This unfortunate decision sends a message of rejection to many loving families that do not conform to the narrow father-mother-children definition of family that it has adopted,” said Pink Dot spokesperson Paerin Choa by email. “Pink Dot believes that Singapore can be an inclusive home for its people in all their diversity, and that constructive dialogue should be the way forward for a truly embracing society.”

For Singh, the furor may at least have the positive side effect of prompting debate. “This may contribute to a more vital discussion for Singapore in terms of where we are and where we are not when it comes to values, freedoms and an open state for discourse,” he says.

While praising the NLB as an institution, acclaimed Singaporean author Alvin Pang writes: “This is a serious impoverishment of what books are and what knowledge means, and it can only harm our intellectual development and broader social discourse.”

Justin Richardson, co-author of And Tango Makes Three, would no doubt agree. “We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families,” he told the New York Times in 2007. “It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks.”

TIME Burma

Burmese Journalists Sentenced to a Decade in Prison With Hard Labor

Myanmar Journalist Protest
Burmese journalists hold banners as they protest for press freedom outside the office of the Daily Eleven newspaper in Rangoon on Jan. 7, 2014. Khin Maung Win—AP

Five journalists were handed astonishingly harsh sentences for reporting about an alleged chemical-weapons plant in the central part of the country

Burma may no longer be a pariah state, but its courts have shown that the government’s authoritarian tendencies are alive and well.

On Thursday, a court in Pakokku Township sentenced the CEO of the Unity Weekly current-affairs magazine, and four of its reporters, to a decade in prison with hard labor for publishing an article earlier this year about the possible existence of a chemical-weapons factory in central Burma.

“This is blatant bullying of media workers by the government’s judicial and executive sectors,” Unity reporter Lu Maw Naing told Burmese broadcaster DVB Multimedia as policemen hustled him out of the courthouse.

Following the publication of the article in January, the government cracked down hard on the periodical. It was hit with a lawsuit by the President’s Office, issues of the magazine were seized and reporters were arrested. The journal was soon shuttered as financial pressures mounted.

While the government has confirmed the existence of the factory, Naypyidaw says it is for standard munitions and denies allegations that chemical weapons are being produced on the grounds. The claims are impossible to independently verify because Burma is a not signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The former generals at the country’s helm remain sensitive about reporting on weapons programs launched by the former junta. Despite the easing of a smattering of sanctions against Burma in the past two years, several nations, including the U.S., have refused to drop sanctions that target members of the country’s shady military.

Thursday’s ruling is the latest in a series of developments that belie Burma’s reformist narrative. Opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi remains barred from holding the country’s highest office, the internal peace process is stagnating and the rise of Buddhist nationalism has ripped massive holes in the diverse country’s delicate social fabric.

In addition, the fourth estate now appears to be firmly in the government’s crosshairs. In the past year, reporters from DVB and Eleven Media have been jailed, and in May the government deported a foreign journalist for covering a press-freedom rally. The palpable optimism that wafted over the nation three years ago is waning rapidly.

“I think [this case] shows the true colors of this government,” Aung Zaw, editor of the Irrawaddy news magazine, tells TIME. “It’s a real reminder of the old days under the previous repressive regime.”

During a radio address to the nation earlier this month, President Thein Sein boasted that Burma’s media environment was one of the freest in Southeast Asia. However, he added the caveat that journalists who undermine “national security” would be punished.

“[If] media freedom threatens national security instead of helping the nation, I want to warn all that we will take effective action under existing laws,” said Thein Sein, according to a state-run publication.

Just a week later, the threat became reality for the reporters of Unity Weekly. The administration relied on the colonial-era Official Secrets Act to wallop the journalists rather than prosecuting them through newly passed media legislation.

“The authorities are clearly shifting from rule of law to rule by law,” says Benjamin Ismail, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific desk.

“They are just trying to justify their censorship and repression of the press by showing the international community that legal procedures are followed and everything is normal.”

Editors on the ground say the financially ruinous lawsuit launched against Unity is part of the government’s elaborate strategy to silence dissent. With myriad publications struggling to keep their head above the water in the impoverished country, any legal action could prove disastrous.

“There’s a clear glass ceiling from the owners or the business side,” says Toe Zaw Latt, DVB’s Burma bureau chief. “Once there is trouble, of course you lose money.”

Harassment of editors also appears to be on the rise. In the past two weeks, numerous press offices have reportedly been party to unannounced visits from officers from the military’s special branch.

“They come to our office and other media offices asking petty questions: ‘How are you making money?’ ‘Are you making a lot of business?’ ‘Are you making a profit?’” says Aung Zaw. “It’s clearly intimidation.”

TIME Thailand

The Thai Junta Revokes a Famed Academic’s Passport in Its Crackdown on Dissidents

THAILAND-POLITICS-PROTEST
Thai policemen stand guard during a demonstration by an anticoup protester at a shopping mall in Bangkok on June 22, 2014. Pornchai Kittiwongsakul—AFP/Getty Images

Little wonder the BBC's World Service has launched a new Thai-language “pop-up” Internet service to counter the military's tightening grip on media and opinion

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, the prominent Thai political scholar and outspoken opponent of the country’s coup, has had his passport revoked as part of the Thai junta’s ongoing campaign against dissenters.

“I am now a stateless person,” Pavin, who is based at Japan’s Kyoto University, tells TIME. “The junta not only claims the right to take control of politics, but the right to define who should be, or should not be, Thai citizens.”

Pavin has not been charged with any crime and is now expected to seek asylum in Japan.

Since the May 22 putsch, the junta has stifled all forms of opposition. Politicians on both sides of the political divide have been detained, strict censorship introduced and peaceful protesters hauled off the street by soldiers in civilian clothing for the merest flickers of dissent. These include making the three-fingered salute from The Hunger Games, reading George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, and serving or eating sandwiches — an anticoup symbol — in an “antagonistic” manner.

Thanapol Eawsakul, editor of the Red Shirt–leaning Fah Diew Khan magazine, was detained over the weekend for simply posting on Facebook that military authorities had instructed him to refrain from making critical remarks about the junta. He is expected to remain in custody for seven days.

Until now, only Thai nationals outside the country have felt able to voice opposition to the coup — the Southeast Asian nation’s 12th since 1932. However, this may change now that Pavin has been made an example of. Considerable pressure is also being put on dissenting Thais living abroad, through both diplomatic channels and threats to family members still at home.

Pavin was a particularly vocal critic of the military and repeatedly refused to return to his homeland and report to the authorities as instructed. When first summoned, he famously offered to send his pet Chihuahua instead, and has continued to pen disparaging op-eds and to condemn the junta to foreign media.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the BBC’s World Service launched a new Thai-language “pop-up” Internet service to counter the propaganda being peddled by the military regime.

“One of the fundamental principles of the World Service is to bring impartial and accurate news and to countries when they lack it,” Liliane Landor, controller of language services for the World Service, told the Telegraph. “We think the time is right to trial a new Thai and English digital stream to bring trusted news and information to people inside Thailand.”

TIME Google

Google Starts Scrubbing News Articles From Search After Court Ruling

'The ruling has created a stopwatch on free expression,' one British editor wrote

+ READ ARTICLE

Raising concerns about censorship and the freedom of the press, articles from major British news outlets are beginning to be removed from some Google search results after a European court ruling began allowing citizens to request their personal histories to be scrubbed from search engines.

The Guardian and the BBC have both received takedown notices from Google, informing them that articles they have written about certain public figures will no longer appear in search results when users search for certain names because of the so-called “right to be forgotten.”

According to The Guardian, Google removed three articles about Dougie McDonald, a retired soccer referee who was forced to resign after a controversial penalty call in 2010. The articles can still be found through some Google searches, but they don’t appear when searching for McDonald’s name. Another article about French workers making art with post-it notes is being affected, as is another about a solicitor facing a fraud trial. It’s also become harder to search for a BBC blog post critical of former Merrill Lynch chairman Stan O’Neal and his actions before the 2008 global financial crisis.

It’s not clear who requested the removals, but it’s likely to have been someone either mentioned in the articles or whose names appeared in the articles’ comments sections. Generally, the results are only censored in search results for the name of the person who requested the takedown. That can make it possible to identify the name involved in the request, if not the identity of the requester.

The search changes that have already taken place illustrate the difficult balance Google and European regulators must strike to enforce the Right To Be Forgotten, which enshrines individual privacy online while sacrificing some elements of free speech. Several British journalists, including Guardian editor James Ball, have spoken out against what they view as a form of censorship.

“The Guardian, like the rest of the media, regularly writes about things people have done which might not be illegal but raise serious political, moral or ethical questions,” Guardian editor James Ball wrote in a post discussing the removals. “The ruling has created a stopwatch on free expression – our journalism can be found only until someone asks for it to be hidden.”

Google has already received more than 70,000 requests to scrub web pages from its search results since the ruling came down in May. That ruling says individuals can request search engines to remove information about them that’s no longer relevant or timely. The definition of “relevant” is, of course, subjective. That ambiguity has made Google an arbiter for what does and doesn’t deserve to remain readily accessible on the Internet — if Google refuses to comply with a takedown request, individuals have the right to litigate the issue in court, a process that could rack up huge legal fees for Google.

Google hasn’t disclosed how many requests it has approved or the guidelines it’s using to make approval decisions. “This is a new and evolving process for us,” a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We’ll continue to listen to feedback and will also work with data protection authorities and others as we comply with the ruling.”

For now, the removals only seem to affect the European versions of Google’s website. Searches on Google.com, the U.S.-based version of Google, still display the articles in question for all queries.

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