Webmaster arrest belies Thai leaders’ UN speeches-Bangkok Pundit

October 5, 2010

Thai webmaster arrested again… after returning from conference on internet freedom

Bangkok Pundit: September 29, 2010


Last year, the police raided Prachatai, a popular online news website, and arrested the online editor Chiranuch Premchaiporn. Chiranuch was charged under the Computer Crimes Act as she did not delete comments posted by readers that were alleged to constitute lese majeste. Other posts on her arrest here, here, here, and here. In theory, Chiranuch faces up to 50 years in prison because there are 10 counts – five years per count. Her trial will start next year. At the time of her arrest, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was giving a speech on media freedom and you had this contrasting image:

This time around Chiranuch was arrested again upon arrival in Thailand after attending “Internet at Liberty 2010: The promise and peril of online free expression”.

BP: It is almost as if the gods are conspiring against Abhisit (or someone wants to send a message on internet/media freedom)….

Committee to Protect Journalists:

“We urge Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to release journalist Chiranuch Premchaiporn immediately and unconditionally,” said Shawn W. Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “The government should stop using anti-crown charges to suppress legitimate criticism.”

Reporters Without Borders:

“We call for Chiranuch’s immediate release and the withdrawal of the charges against her so that we do not have to witness another attempt to exploit the Computer Crimes Act to silence the regime’s critics,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Prachatai is a reliable source of news and information that has managed in recent months to keep the public informed about what is going on in Thailand.”

The press freedom organisation added: “The authorities should take note of the fact that Prachatai decided to close down its forum because of the difficulty of controlling the comments posted on it. This arrest is all the more inadmissible for being very badly timed. Chiranuch was returning from an international conference on online free expression, to which she had been invited.”

BP: Regime?

Amnesty International:

Chiranuch Premchaiporn is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression, and should be immediately and unconditionally released.

The Thai government has frequently used the 2007 Computer-related Crimes Act to uphold the country’s lese majeste law in a growing trend of censorship to silence peaceful political dissent. The lese majeste law goes beyond reasonable restrictions on freedom of expression provided for under international human rights law.

Amnesty International is concerned with the Thai government’s characterization of the lese majeste law as a matter of national security (and the subsequent decision in June 2009 to hold a trial of alleged lese majeste behind closed doors on that basis). The same argument about protection of national security is now being used to arbitrarily detain Chiranuch Premchaiporn.

BP: From what BP has read, last year Chiranuch was arrested only on “computer crimes” charges. This is a nice new legal charge for online speech deemed to be lese majeste as it is contrary to national security without calling it lese majeste. Computer crimes usually conveys the image of hackers stealing your information so doesn’t sound as bad from the government’s perspective if you just hear “computer crime”. However, this time Chiranuch has been arrested for both computer crimes offences and lese majeste per RWB and Prachatai so it puts the lese majeste law directly back in the public spotlight. Abhisit earlier this year at the FCCT:

Shawn Crispin from Asia Times: Last year, you spoke at the same event and acknowledged problems of application of lese majeste law and asked what has Abhisit done because has not seen any progress?

A’s answer: It is not true that there has been no progress. We have set up a panel on lese majeste cases and had first meeting this year. None of the recent cases have moved forward. Hopefully, we will have clearer guidelines in the next couple of months. I do regret the Prachatai case which was an exception.

BP: Where are we on the new guidelines? Clearly, nowhere. Now, it would be unfair to blame Abhisit for the person who made the complaint, the police who investigated, or the judge who issued the warrant and Abhisit does have a lot on his plate, but Abhisit has been promising since the beginning of 2009 to fix this. So what is happening? Is there anything concrete to show?

*yes, BP does realize that BP is a little late to comment on this and other issues, but have had limited access to the internet this last week…

**concrete being the operative word as Sathien of Nation Group has a tweet of a story about today’s Cabinet meeting which is “นายกฯ”หนักใจเรื่องจับบก.ประชาไท เพราะข่าวดังไปทั่วโลก” (“PM troubled over the arrest of Prachatai editor because it is worldwide news”). Troubled as worldwide news? Or troubled as media editor is arrested and the chilling effect on others? In fairness, Abhisit may need to use the former argument to sell it domestically and push through some “reform”, but well what does he really think and what will he actually do?

Also, see Saksith, Andrew Marshall, Free Jiew website (Jiew being Chiranuch’s nickname) PPT.

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