Overview of Chiranuch’s free speech trial-Thai Netizen

February 4, 2011

Detailed Cases of Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn

1. Background:

a. About Prachatai:

 

Prachatai (means “Free People”) or the Foundation for Community Educational Media (FCEM) was founded in 2004 by Jon Ungpakorn, a Thai senator and a human rights advocate who won the Magsaysay Award.

 

Prachatai was set up in response to the period of the curtailment of mainstream media under the administration of PM Thaksin Shinnawatra. It continues to play an important role after the military coup d’état in September 2006 to the current period when the Emergency Decree is being imposed on many of the provinces in the country including Bangkok, which has severe effects to the right to freedom of expression.

 

Since 2004, Prachatai has been a source of news for debates on social, political, and human rights issues in Thailand. It also publishes interviews and articles by academics, human rights activists, community activists, trade unionists, student activists, etc. In addition to news reports, Prachatai also hosts a series of online TV and radio programmes that discuss those issues.

 

b. About Chiranuch Premchaiporn:

 

Chiranuch Premchaipron is the Executive Director and one of the founders of Prachatai.

 

Prachatai is one of a few online media that provide a space for readers to discuss and express their views and thoughts through an online forum (also known as webboard), which was separated into two sections: Society and Politics (for general issues) and “Pro-democracy and Anti-Dictatorship”. The webboard enjoyed huge popularity. In 2008, there were 250 news topics and 2,500 new comments per day, with Chiranuch as a sole full-time moderator. Around 20 forum members voluntarily reported problems but did not operate on a schedule.

 

The purpose of the webboard was to create a space where information and discussions could be exchanged in line with the belief that Prachatai belongs to all the readers. Given that the situation of freedom of expression has been under suppression in Thailand since the military coup d’état in 2006, the Prachatai webboard was meant to function as additional spaces to the printed media and at the same time to present different angles on Thai politics.

 

Apart from being involved with Prachatai, Chiranuch was a founding member of Thai Netizen Network (TNN) which is a network of media activists, internet users, bloggers, and IT academics who monitor violation of freedom of expression on the internet as a result of the Computer-Related Crime Act.

 

Prior to her involvement in Prachatai, Chiranuch was an active women human rights defender and HIV/AIDS activist. Her focus was on the issue of gender equality, social welfare, and de-stigmatize on the people living with HIV/AIDS. Her focus was also on the right to access to retro-antiviral drugs and working and supporting with HIV-affected children and campaigning to change the negative mindset of the society and the population on the children who are living with HIV/AIDS.

 

2. Cases, Arrests, and Bails:

First case:

On March 6, 2009, at around 2.30pm, more than ten police officers in three police cars came to arrest her at Prachatai office. The officers first showed a search warrant and later an arrest warrant. The charge referred to section 15 of the Computer-Related Crime Act (CCA).[1] The offence in this case concerned a forum topic that contains defamation of the monarchy posted by a forum member on 15 October 2008. She denied all charges.

 

The officers confiscated her laptop and copied all the data for forensic procedures. Two similar copies were made for both sides to prevent any alteration.

 

Second case:

On 24 September 2010 at 2pm, Chiranuch and her colleague, Arthit Suriyawongkul, a media rights activist, arrived in Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok after attending the Internet at Liberty 2010 conference in Budapest, Hungary. The conference was sponsored by Google and Central European University. Chiranuch was stopped at the immigration checkpoint and was shown an arrest warrant.

 

She then contacted my lawyer. The police informed her that she had to report to Khon Kaen Provincial police station where the warrant was issued. Khon Kaen is 449 kilometres away from Bangkok.

 

Her lawyer called the police station regarding the bail, which he was told that it was 200,000 baht (approx. US$6,500). At 5.30pm, the immigration police officers escorted me (and Arthit as a company) to Nakorn Ratchasima province to hand her to the awaiting Khon Kaen police.

 

At 11.30pm, she arrived at the police station. Her lawyer accompanied with my colleagues at Prachatai arrived later at midnight. She was finally bailed out at 1.00am on the next day. The interrogation continued until 2.30am. Everyone immediately headed back to Bangkok.

 

3. Actions by the judges/ prosecutors:

First case:

On 7 April 2009, the police filed nine further charges against her according to other nine forum topics posted by members from April to August 2008. The police then filed the case to the public prosecutor on 1 June 2009.

 

On 31 March 2010, the public prosecutor filed ten charges against her for the ten forum topics posted at different times. These topics are said to be making some reference to His Majesty the King. However, the offending topics had already been removed well before the arrest.

 

According to the Section 15 of the CCA, the penalty is the same for offenses described in Section 14, which is imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than 100,000 Baht or both. Due to a penalty limitation in the law, the highest possible penalty, after reduced by a limitation in the law, is 20 years in prison or 1,000,000 baht fine (US$33,400).

 

On 31 May, Chiranuch appeared at the Criminal Court in Rachadapisek Road to state the names and lists of the witnesses and evidences to Ms. Chanathip Muangpawong, the head judge. The public prosecutor’s requested for four days to be given to the witnesses on their side was promptly allowed by Ms. Chanathip. But when my lawyer requested to her for the similar numbers of dates and witnesses, it was denied by Ms. Chanathip.

 

Ms. Chanathip made a comment that: “it is not necessary for the defendant to have many dates for witnesses. You do not have to worry. I can already make a verdict on this case based upon the information given by the public prosecutor.”

 

The opinion made by the head judge was documented by Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, a staff member of the Asian Human Rights Commission and Ms. Kwanravee Wangudom, a human rights defender who were presented there. There were also around 20 people in the court room when the head judge made that comment.

However, with the continued persistence in persuading her, the judge allowed Chiranuch to be given the same numbers of days for our witnesses.

 

Second case:

The second arrest was under the charge of Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code which defines a person violating Thailand’s lese majeste law as anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king and the royal family” and that the severest penalty is imprisonment for up to fifteen years.

 

Chiranuch is also charged under Article 116 under the Criminal Code which prohibits making “to the public by words, writings or any other means which is not an act within the purpose of the Constitution to disrupt peace”, and article 14 and 15 of the Computer-related Crime Act, “intentionally supporting or consenting for crimes linked to the use of computers”.[2]

 

The charge was allegedly from the complaint filed with the police in April 2008 by Mr. Sunimit Chirasuk, a resident of Khon Kaen, regarding five comments with alleged lese majeste comments made after an article in Prachatai. The comments were in reference to an interview of Mr. Chotisak Onsoong, an anti-coup activist who did not stand up for the Royal Anthem in a cinema (in Thailand, the Royal Anthem is played prior to every screening).[3]

 

The arrest warrant was issued by the police in September 2009, but the information on the arrest warrant was not delivered to me until a year later when Chiranuch was arrested at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in September 2010.

 

Chiranuch is required to report every month to the police in Khon Kaen which is 449 km away from Bangkok. Her next appointment with the Khon Kaen police is 8 December.

 

It is expected that if Chiranuch is prosecuted in all charges currently registered with the complaint, the highest penalty she could be facing up is 50 years in prison.

4. Responses by human rights organisations:

First case:

On 6 March 2009, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a Hong Kong based regional NGO released a statement condemning the police raid on Prachatai.[4]

 

The statement:

  • Refers to Prachatai as “one of the few independent and outspoken media outlets operating in Thailand”.
  • Condemns “this police raid and the issuing of the arrest warrant for the Prachatai director in the strongest possible terms” and “the odious law under which the raid and arrest warrant have been issued is one of the main planks in the platform designed to be built over the heads of dissidents in Thailand”.
  • Expresses its strong support for staffs of Prachatai and calls for action from “international media organizations, human rights groups, and UN Human Rights Council […] and UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression”.

Second case:

 

Amnesty International, on 24 September 2010, issued a statement demanding for my release and that Chiranuch is a prisoner of conscious.[5]

 

International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and Union for Civil Liberty (UCL), on 27 September 2010, issued a statement “condemning Chiranuch’s arrest and the use of restrictive legislation in order to silence critics of the current government’s policies, in violation of the right to freedom of expression […] on the vague grounds of protecting ‘national security’”. Both organisations call for the Thai government to drop all charges against her and to make sure that Thai law will not be used as a political tool to silence members of the oppositions, intellectuals, and journalists who disagree with the government policies and to call for the government to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression to visit Thailand.[6]

International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (Front Line) issued a statement and an appeal in respond to the arrest highlighting its concern regarding the arrest, judicial harassment and charges against her “as it is believed that these have been brought against her solely as a result of her work in the defense of human rights, particularly freedom of expression and the press”. It also “expresses its concern regarding ongoing interference with freedom of the media and the right to freedom of expression in Thailand”.[7]

 

Mark Belinsky, a co-director of Digital Democracy (who attended the Internet Liberty 2010 conference in Hungary) said that: “[it is] unacceptable that she [was] being detained for something she didn’t say, but actually for illegal remarks that she tried to remove from her site. This sends a dangerous message to the people of Thailand and has implications for the rest of the region”.[8]

 

Reporters without Borders released a statement stating that[9]:

  • “[the] way the Thai authorities are behaving towards Chiranuch is unacceptable. The judicial system will be completely discredited if all the charges against her are not dropped. She is being treated like a criminal although she is regarded internationally as an expert in online journalism”.

 

Within hours of the arrests, there were actions launched by bloggers, journalists, and NGOs on social networks including facebook and twitter.

5. Responses by Thai government:

  • 11 March 2009 – After the Thai Netizen Network, a network of activists, scholars, and media practitioners filed a complaint with PM Abhisit Vejjajiva, the PM said that he had no policy to persecute me and that a solution should be discussed.
  • 14 March 2009 – In a speech at Saint John’s College, University of Oxford, the PM mentioned that the case was “a misunderstanding and perhaps not [the police was not] following the standard operating procedures”.
  • 14 January 2010 – In the keynote speech to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, the PM after answering questions on lese majestelaw spoke of his “regret” and explained that: “[the case] was actually an exception because we had actually invited all the stakeholders and thought we had a good standard operating procedure. But that case was really an exception”.
  • 15 June 2010 – About one month after the announcement of the National Reconciliation Roadmap, Juti Krairiksh, the minister for International and Communication Technology gave an interview on website regulation and criticized me. He mentioned saying that there was a problem in censorship “in the example of Prachatai, the owner of the website who is a lady has proficiently coordinated with other countries by sending them a photo of her behind prison bars to accuse the government of suppressing freedom of the press, so we have to negotiate in keeping with the reconciliation roadmap”.

Annex:

1. Timeframe of the case:

a. First Case:

  • 6 March 2009 – Police officers applied for a search warrant and an arrest warrant. I was given bail.
  • 7 April 2009 – The police filed additional charges.
  • 1 June 2009 – The police handed the case to the public prosecutor. I was again bailed out but had to report to the Attorney-General’s Office every 30 days. I was later allowed to report every 60 days instead, after a formal request was made.
  • 31 March 2010 – The public prosecutor filed charges in court. I was briefly imprisoned for three and a half hours before getting bail.
  • 31 May 2010 – A preliminary hearing was held to schedule witness hearings.
  • 8 November 2010 – Both sides meet at the court to finalise the witness and evidence list.

 

Witness hearings will be held in early February 2011. The dates for the prosecution are 4, 8, 9, and 10, and the defendant 11, 15, 16, 17.

 

b. Second Case:

28 April 2008 – Suminit Chirasuk lodged a complaint against Prachatai at Khon Kaen provincial police station

8 September 2009 – An arrest warrant was issued by Khon Kaen court

24 September 2010 – I was arrested and was bailed out at 1.00am on 25 September 2010

 

2. Documents on the state of freedom of expression in Thailand:

a.       Position Paper: Restriction on freedom of expression through lese majeste law in Thailand; by International Federation of Human Rights. 1 July 2009. Available at: http://www.fidh.org/Position-paper-Restrictions-on-freedom-of

 

b.      Letter from more than one hundred of international dignitaries, scholars, and parliamentarians to Abhisit Vejajiva, the Prime Minister of the Royal Government of Thailand, raising concern on the deterioration of basic civil liberties through lese majeste laws and call for the amendment of the law, March 2009. Available at http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/letter1.pdf andhttp://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/additional-letter-signatories-14-march-2009.pdf

 

c.       Press Release on Cases Related to the Computer-Related Crime Act; by Thai Netizen Network, 26 May 2009. Available at:http://thainetizen.org/node/570

 

3. Brief explanations of other victims under Computer Related Crime Act (CCA)[10]

a.       In December 2007, an internet user under the name of “Phraya Pichai” was prosecuted for lese majeste but ended up sentenced for allowing a defamation to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to be posted on own web forum, and thus threatening relationship between countries and damaging national security. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced for two years in prison and 20,000 Thai Baht fine (US$670). He got a two-year suspension of sentence.

b.      In June 2010, website designer Thanthawuth Thaweewarodomkul was prosecuted for allowing posts deemed defaming to the King on own web forum. The case is still in trial process which will also begin in February 2011.

c.       In August 2009, an individual sued the founder of Thailand’s largest web forum Pantip.com for allowing a false defaming forum topic to be posted on own website. The case is due to be sentenced in December 2010.

d.      In June 2010, Matichon newspaper sued Manager Newspaper for defamation on their website. Manager newspaper allegedly posted an article accusing Matichon to be a part of an anti-monarchy movement. The case is still in trial process.

e.       In September 2010, Manager Newspaper sued Matichon newspaper for defamation by posting the complaint of the aforementioned case on their website. The case is still in trial process.

4.      Report on the arrests of internet users and blocking of websites using Computer Crime Act released by iLaw Project, which documented that at least 74,686 URLs have been blocked under the act, http://ilaw.or.th/node/632

 

 

 

 


[1] The Computer-Related Crime Act (CCA) was drafted and passed after the military coup d’état (which took place on 19 September 2006). The act was drafted and passed by the National Legislative Assembly, which was an assembly selected by the coup makers.

[2] For full text of article 112 and article 116 of the Criminal Code (1956), please see http://www.urgentappeals.net/pdf/AHRC-UAC-153-2010-02.pdf

[3] For the case of Chotisak Onsoong, please see “The Incident of Chotisak Onsoong”, 23 April 2008. Avaliable at: http://ratchasima.wordpress.com/2008/04/24/news-not-fit-to-print-at-the-nation. The Reporters without Border also has an overview briefing discussing the situation of lese majeste law and its encroachment on the right to freedom of expression, February 2009. Available at: http://www.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/rapport_en_ok.pdf

[4] Thailand: AHRC strongly condemns police raid on news outlet, 6 March 2009. Avaliable at: http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2009statements/1925/

[5] Thailand: Demand the Release of Online News Editor: Chiranuch Premchaiporn http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA39/005/2010/en/3f93daf2-32ee-4a3f-bc01-3a2b1197830a/asa390052010en.html

[6] Thailand: A journalist faces criminal charges for comments posted on her website, 27 September 2010. Available at:http://www.fidh.org/Thailand-A-journalist-faces-criminal-charges-for

[7] Thailand: Judicial harassment of online activist and human rights defender Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, 5 November 2010. Available at:http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/13727

[8] Thai Journalist and Anti-Censorship Activist Detained, 24 September 2010. Available at: http://digitaldemocracy.chipin.com/free-jiew

[9] Website editor facing possible combined sentence of 82 years in prison, 1 October 2010. Available at: http://en.rsf.org/thailande-website-editor-facing-possible-01-10-2010,38467.html

[10] Given the discreetness from the government’s sides in handling cases related to CCA, human rights groups are not certain how many cases have been charged and sentenced, however these are a few of the cases that are documented. ILAW, a network of lawyers and human rights activists, have documented around 180 cases of CCA in the past three years. Their report is due to be released on 8 December 2010.



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http://thainetizen.org
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11 Responses to “Overview of Chiranuch’s free speech trial-Thai Netizen”


  1. […] For further background see “Overview of Chiranuch’s free speech trial” athttps://facthai.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/overview-of-chiranuch’s-free-speech-trial-thai-netizen/. […]


  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Anonymous, Syd Walker. Syd Walker said: Feudal absurdity in modern #Thailand! http://bit.ly/eYN9Um Chiranuch Premchaiporn is Thailand's #freespeech heroine! #censorship #auspol […]

  3. mike Says:

    Statement of Facts
    ==================
    Background – one or two paragraphs.
    The Charge – crucial to the facts
    Facts on Incident – as much facts relevant to support or deny the charge.

    I would’ve written it this way. Unfortunately, there is tons of opinion glorifying the accused but I do not see the facts relevant to the charge. So, I still do not know, based on facts, what this case is about.

    Sorry, if this seems critical, but you might need to consult legal practitioners, or better still, ex-prosecutors, if you’re going to convince anyone of her innocence. Because, ultimately, it depends on facts. Not just your opinion.

    I hope this does not sound too critical. I’m trying to be constructive.


  4. When laws are unjust, they must be undone and victims of unjust prosecutions given compensation. This is really part of the overall issue, and not just the issue of innocence. After all, if the law stipulates under such and such conditions you are deemed guilty and the state makes it so that those conditions which did not exist in the past exist now then one must examine the need for the law and the motivation behind it. Guilt and innocence are not black and white but many times determined by prejudice and legislated standards that are unfair and unjust.
    Chiranuch’s case is not so similar to my own, but I can personally attest to police double standards, and the failure of Thai law to be even and balanced. In Chiranuch’s case she is being persecuted – no typo – because she did not take the material offline quickly enough. In my case the police and my two accusers never made that an issue; it seemed they did not care whether the material was left on or not.


  5. […] overview of the case is provided by FACT – Freedom Against Censorship Thailand. Jiew is accused of […]


  6. […] overzicht van het proces is gepubliceerd door FACT (Freedom Against Censorship Thailand). Jiew wordt ervan […]


  7. […] – Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (libertà contro la censura in Tailandia) – ha presentato una panoramica del caso. Jiew è accusata di lesa maestà [it]: avrebbe infatti permesso di pubblicare sul forum […]


  8. […] overview of a box is supposing by FACT (Freedom Against Censorship Thailand). Jiew is indicted of permitting […]


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