Thailand Court Delays Verdict in Chiranuch Premchaiporn's Internet Freedom Case
Amid global criticism of Thailand’s computer crime laws, the long-awaited verdict in the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn has been postponed until May 30.
Prechaiporn, one of IWMF’s 2011 Courage in Journalism Award winners, is facing up to 20 years in jail for posting 10 comments on Prachatai website by readers critical of Thailand’s royalty.
A Thai judge postponed the verdict on Monday. Prechaiporn -- the webmaster widely known by the nickname Jiew -- is being tried under the government’s computer crime laws, which were enacted in 2007 to bar information considered critical of the monarchy. She is the first webmaster to be prosecuted under the law.
In the widely-covered case, prosecutors claimed that she was guilty of "intentionally supporting or consenting" to post unlawful content by failing to delete the offending comments quickly enough. Her lawyers said there are no guidelines set by the government.
The criminal court judge said additional time was needed to review documents in the case. Observing the proceedings were representatives from the European Union, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Google, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Front Line Defenders, Amnesty International Thailand (AI), Malaysiakini, SEACAM , Bytes for All (Pakistan), ilaw, FACT, Thai Netizen and Network of Human Rights Lawyer.
Chiranuch Premchaiporn, Thailand
2011 Courage in Journalism Award
Facing the threat of a 20-year prison sentence for failing to delete critical remarks about the Thai monarchy on her website, Chiranuch Premchaiporn’s case has turned an international spotlight on Thailand’s draconian computer crime laws.
“They try to silence and control the people,” says Premchaiporn, 43, webmaster and director of Thailand’s Prachatai online newspaper. Thousands of comments streamed into her website daily, but government critics insist she should have immediately deleted 10 remarks posted by others that criticized the Thai monarchy – a criminal offense.
Premchaiporn – an IWMF 2011 Courage in Journalism Award winner – is free on bail and her trial has been delayed until May 30, 2012.
Her news website Prachatai suspended its online forums in July 2010. She is suing the Thai government for its illegitimate attempts to block Prachatai and has switched to server/web hosting services outside the country.
A year after the bloody military crackdown of a Red Shirt protest that ended in 92 deaths, the latest efforts to block Internet freedom have recharged critics of the government who have channeled their anger underground because of laws restricting freedom.
As the Thai government moved to silence the opposition, Premchaiporn’s website became a target for censorship in March 2009. Police raided her office, interrogating her for five hours and seizing her computer equipment because of anti-monarchal political postings on her website’s open forum.
“It was total chaos. After they searched the office they showed me an arrest warrant. They treated me like I was a criminal. I called my lawyer, and friends started coming to my office to support me and tweet about the arrest. There must have been 50 friends and journalists crowding the office,” she said.
“Everyone followed me to the police department’s crown suppression division. They questioned me for five hours. I was a little bit afraid when they took my fingerprints like I was a criminal,” said Premchaiporn, who was released on bail. ”I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong, but they were trying to silence the Internet platform and I am a target.”
Despite increasing government scrutiny, Premchaiporn – who goes by the nickname “Jiew" – remains determined to speak out about Internet freedom. Traveling back to Bangkok from an international conference in September 2010, she was pulled aside by Thai immigration officers and arrested. “I couldn’t believe it. I kept asking, ‘What’s the charge?’” she said. “It was the same thing all over again. I found out people had been posting ‘unlawful’ comments on the website.” Immigration police drove her five hours away to a remote police station in Khon Kaen, where she was questioned for hours and finally released after being charged with allowing anti-crown comments on her website. She could face another 50 years in prison, if charges are brought against her in this case.
As her case gradually moves through Thailand’s court system, Premchaiporn continues managing her website’s 15-person staff. The popular Prachatai website, founded in 2004, has attracted worldwide support from Internet freedom organizations angered at Thailand’s restrictive, vague computer crimes act.
“The media in Thailand is afraid to cover issues relating to the royal family,” Premchaiporn said. “Once it was announced that I received the Courage in Journalism Award, they covered my case and interviewed me. But there is fear.”
Although the Thai government has tightly controlled the press for the past 70 years, the latest efforts to crack down on the Internet have raised an international outcry. “In Thailand’s now highly charged political environment, Prachatai has been singled out for government harassment,” said Shawn Crispin, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ senior southeast Asia representative. “In recent years, authorities have shuttered tens of thousands of websites and pages, including Prachatai, for broadly defined reasons of national security.