Prachatai lèse majesté trial resumes-Bangkok Post

September 4, 2011

Prachathai lese majeste trial begins

Achara Ashayagachat

Bangkok Post: September 1, 2011

The trial of independent media icon Chiranuch Premchaiporn on charges brought under the Computer Crimes Act was to begin on Thursday morning amid international academia concern over the ambiguous position of the new government on the controversial use of lese majeste laws.

Witnesses for the prosecution are due in court in a series of hearings which have resumed today after half a year’s pause. They will appear in turn at the Ratchada Criminal Court on September 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 20 and 21, while witnesses for the defence are to appear on October 11, 12, 13 and 14.

Chiranuch, 43, was charged in March 2010 with violating Section 15 of the Computer Crimes  Act. The charges are linked to 10 comments that criticised the monarchy and appeared on the now defunct Prachathai web board.

Although the comments were made by members of the public, the attorney-general’s prosecutor has charged that as the moderator of the web board Ms Chiranuch was responsible for the content.

She had fully cooperated with the authorities by having those comments removed after she was told to do so.

If found guilty, Ms Chiranuch faces up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine of up to one million baht.

[The Nation]

Ms Chiranuch is the executive director of Prachathai, a non-profit online news website which publishes articles on politics, the people’s movement, and human rights in Thailand and Southeast Asia.

In May 2011, Ms Chiranuch received the Courage in Journalism Award presented by the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Meanwhile 112 internationally-renowned scholars have sent an open letter to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Wednesday, August 31, calling for the review of Article 112 of the Criminal Code (which deals with lese majeste) and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act.

Mimicking the controversial article, 112 academics led by Kevin Hewison, from North Carolina University, Michael Connors, from Latrobe University and Tyrell Haberkorn, from the Australian National University, have drawn attention to human rights issues and the political use of lese majeste under Article 112 and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act.

The scholars called on Ms Yingluck’s government to review the cases of those already charged and convicted, review the way the laws are applied and to release on bail those prisoners fighting their charges in the courts.

Since 2005, the use of the lese majeste law has seen a huge increase in the number of charges coming before Thai courts. Statistics from the Office of the Judiciary showed a 1,500% increase, they said. Many of these cases were related to the political conflict that has been constant since the 2006 military coup.

Kevin Hewison, professor of Asian Studies at Chapel Hill and a Thai studies expert, said the political abuse of these laws has seen a precipitous deterioration of human rights in Thailand.

“Censorship of web sites, self-censorship in the media and many charges of disloyalty mean serious restrictions on freedom of expression,” said Mr Hewison.

Somyos Preuksakasemsuk [Pawat Laopaisarntaksin]

Among the victims of these draconian laws, scholars from 15 countries around the globe highlighted the cases of Ms Chiranuch as well as a political activist, unionist and Voice of Taksin editor, Somyos Preuksakasemsuk, who was detained for 84 days before being sent for prosecution on lese majeste charges, and a US citizen of Thai origin, Joe Gordon, who was held for 84 days before being charged with offences alleged to have occurred in the United States. Bail has been refused in both these cases.

Michael Connors, a Thai Studies specialist and Associate Professor at LaTrobe University, said that the continued imprisonment without bail of those charged with lese majeste was a completely disproportionate and punitive response to an alleged crime.

Academic freedom had also been attacked, with charges and threats like those targeting a historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, an associate professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Thammasat University, meaning that scholars were unwilling to speak freely.

After several years of political conflict in Thailand, the advent of a new government has offered the first opportunity in several years to review the use of these oppressive laws, the open letter said.

Tyrell Haberkorn, an expert on human rights issues in Thailand and a Research Fellow at the Australian National University, said that without an urgent review of Article 112 and the Computer Crimes Act, with serious attention to possible repeal and immediate release of those currently imprisoned or detained awaiting trial, there was no hope for the consolidation of the rule of law or the development of a meaningful human rights regime in Thailand.

Cabinet members including Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung and ICT Minister Abudit Nakornthap have said they would continue using the controversial lese majeste laws despite repeated calls by their red-shirted supporters to repeal the applications that have sent many comrades to jail.

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