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Saturday, February 12, 2011

New Mandala: Chiranuch trial delay

February 12th, 2011 by Andrew Walker 

Received by email:
In the afternoon of 11 February 2011, the court informed the public prosecutor and defendant lawyers that the judges will not be free on 15 and 16 February as they will have to attend to cases related to drug-related matters and other matters.

The public prosecutor offered the opinion that a problem has arisen since the witness hearing appeared to be taking more time than expected. The witness hearing for the prosecution was supposed to be finished at this point in the trial, but only five out of fourteen had testified. Given that most of the prosecution witnesses are civil servants, it is also difficult for them to reschedule their plans. This problem also coincides with the yearly schedule when civil servants are appointed. The public prosecutor then requested to cancel the dates for witness hearings next week, which were scheduled to take place on 15, 16, and 17 February 2011. The public prosecutor still needs to conduct hearings of nine additional witnesses.

The defendant lawyers did not have any objection to this and requested four days for the witness hearings for their side.

Given these circumstances, the judges have no objection to the request of the prosecutor and the agreement of the defendant to the request of the prosecutor. For the benefit of justice, the court has issued an order to cancel the witness hearings on 15 – 17 February 2011.

The new dates for the witness hearings for the public prosecutor will be on 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 20, 21 September 2011 (for nine witnesses). The new dates for the witness hearings for the defendant will be on 11, 12, 13, 14 October 2011 (for eight witnesses).  [UPDATE: apologies for the date errors in an earlier version of this email.  AW]

For a summary of the trial so far, see the daily updates on Freedom Against Censorship Thailand.


FACT: Day Five – Free speech on trial in Thailand, postponed

Police scientist testifies for prosecution

The fifth day of trial continued on Friday for independent news portal Prachatai’s webmaster, Chiranuch Premchaiporn independent news portal Prachatai’s webmaster in Bangkok’s Criminal Court.

Chiranuch is charged with ten violations of Thailand’s draconian Computer Crimes Act for alleged lèse majesté. Each count carries a potential sentence of five years imprisonment.

Lieutenant Dr. Wiwat Sittisoradej is a police scientist and has a doctoral degree in physical sciences from Chulalongkorn University appearing for the prosecution.

He copied Chiranuch’s laptop hard disk seized by the police on March 6, 2009 for forensic analysis. Using software developed for the US FBI, he discovered eight modified photos of King Bhumibol to provide the monarch a monkey face which had been deleted from the trash.

These photos must have come from a YouTube video insulting the king. In any case, Chiranuch is not charged with these photos but they were used to set the stage for her accusers.

The police scientist also found eight postings to Prachatai in two folders named ‘Prachatai Webboard’. Although the laptop disk arrived with an evidence sticker, it was unsigned, making verification and continuity of evidence impossible.

Furthermore, the transfer disk provided Wiwat was unsealed, suggesting it was not a new disk and raising the possibility it may have been used in other investigations leaving potentially incriminating artifacts.

The lieutenant worked alone without supervision from other police. Normally, police evidence is printed to use as evidence in court. However, Dr. Wiwat felt such copying would put him in violation of lèse majesté laws himself. He also declined to repeat this information in his report.

He found no evidence that either the deleted images or the eight postings had been created or posted from Chiranuch’s computer.

The most interesting part of the police scientist’s testimony was regarding the way email works. Thunderbird, an offline email client similiar to Microsoft’s Outlook application was found on Jiew’s laptop. As offline clients are set to default save incoming emails and their attachments to disk.

Dr. Wiwat readily conceded the probability that the images and postings were received by Chiranuch in email and were not redistributed by her.

The police witness was shown a report from a lèse majesté seminar held at Thammasat University in 2008. Dr. Wiwat also conceded that statements calling for amendment or repeal of Thailand’s lèse majesté laws used in postings may have come from this document.

Although the police scientist found some of the postings to contain language he considered impolite, he found no direct mentions of the monarchy. Lt. Wiwat said that a computer user could not be in violation for simply receiving these emails.

The witness also found no links to Prachatai by IP address meaning Jiew’s laptop was not the server for Prachatai’s webboard.

Pol. Lt. Dr. Wiwat was the fifth government witness, leaving nine more for the prosecution. As it became obvious trial would not be completed by the end of next week, a decision was made to adjourn for a later date.

Chiranuch’s trial will resume Thursday, September 1st and continue on Sept 2nd, 6th through 9th, 20th and 21st to hear nine remaining prosecution witnesses. The defence will begin on  Tuesday, October 11th through 14th to hear eight witnesses.

An after-party was held at the Prachatai offices for friends and supporters, legal and media observers, thus this late posting. Our toast was:


CJ Hinke
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)


MLDI: Court Decision to postpone Chiranuch Premchaiporn’s trial

by Media Legal Defence Initiative

The following has been received from Pokpong Lawansiri:
The judges, who are in charge of the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the Executive Director of Prachatai, made the decision to postpone her trial until September and October 2011.
In the afternoon of 11 February 2011, the court informed the public prosecutor and defendant lawyers that the judges will not be free on 15 and 16 February as they will have to attend to cases related to drug-related matters and other matters.

The public prosecutor offered the opinion that a problem has arisen since the witness hearing appeared to be taking more time than expected. The witness hearing for the prosecution was supposed to be finished at this point in the trial, but only five out of fourteen had testified. Given that most of the prosecution witnesses are civil servants, it is also difficult for them to reschedule their plans. This problem also coincides with the yearly schedule when civil servants are appointed. The public prosecutor then requested to cancel the dates for witness hearings next week, which were scheduled to take place on 15, 16, and 17 February 2011. The public prosecutor still needs to conduct hearings of nine additional witnesses.

The defendant lawyers did not have any objection to this and requested four days for the witness hearings for their side.

Given these circumstances, the judges have no objection to the request of the prosecutor and the agreement of the defendant to the request of the prosecutor. For the benefit of justice, the court has issued an order to cancel the witness hearings on 15 – 17 February 2011.

The new dates for the witness hearings for the public prosecutor will be on 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 20, 21 September 2011 (for nine witnesses). The new dates for the witness hearings for the defendant will be on 11, 12, 13, 14 October 2011 (for eight witnesses).

For more information, please contact:

Pokpong Lawansiri, 082-344-8724 (English)
Orapin Yinyongpattana, 086-897-7828 (Thai)

Independent: Thai reporter faces jail for insult to king

By Andrew Buncombe, Asia Correspondent

Campaigners in Thailand have called for the dropping of charges against a journalist who is being is being prosecuted over comments posted on a news website that were critical of the country’s royal family. If convicted, she faces up to 50 years in jail.

In a case that is being seen as test of the country’s questionable commitment to free speech as well as an examination of its controversial “lese majeste” laws, a court in Bangkok is hearing evidence against Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of an online news site called Prachatai, or Thai People. Ms Premchaiporn is not accused of posting the comments herself – with no small irony that person was acquitted in a separate hearing – but she is charged with failing to delete them from the website.

“Chiranuch should not be in the dock,” said Benjamin Zawacki, a regional spokesman for Amnesty International. “The comments for which she is being held responsible should not be prohibited in the first place, much less when they are posted by someone else.”
The evidence currently being heard against the 32-year-old journalist relates to charges covered by the so-called Computer-related Crimes Act of 2007, which deals with the liability of online intermediaries relating to national security. She has also been charged under the lese majeste legislation, in a case that will be heard subsequently.

While the lese majeste laws have existed for decades in Thailand, the punishments were sharply increased during the mid-1970s by one of the country’s many military-backed administrations. Now, an individual can be jailed for up to 15 years for any comment deemed to be critical of or harmful towards the ailing King Bhumibol or members of the 83-year-old’s family.

Experts say the laws have been increasingly invoked, and often to prosecute dissidents or members of the political opposition. Several leaders of the anti-government Red Shirt movement have pursued using lese majeste legislation and writers and journalists have been jailed.

At least 44,000 websites have been blocked. David Streckfuss, an American academic based in Thailand and author of a recent study of the lese majeste laws, said that from just one or two incidents a year two decades ago, in 2009 a total of 164 cases were brought to court.
“Unfortunately, it appears that in all of this political turmoil, lese majeste has become the preferred charge against political opponents, especially against the Red Shirts or those perceived to be sympathisers. The law has now become more than just a latent threat,” Mr Streckfuss said last year in an interview with Prachatai. “Thailand cannot claim to be democratic while at the same time arresting and trying hundreds of people for freedom of expression.”

Prachatai was founded in 2004 by Jon Ungpakorn, a winner of the Ramon Magsaysay award. It was established amid growing concern about threats to the mainstream media during the premiership of prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was later ousted in a coup in 2006. Prachatai estimates that at the time when the offending remarks were posted, between April and August 2008, it was receiving up to 2,500 new comments every day. Ms Premchaiporn was the site’s only full-time moderator. She said that she removed the purportedly harmful comments when she was contacted by officials from the government’s ministry of information.

Press freedom campaigners say the case will do little to improve Thailand’s reputation. In a recent survey compiled by the group Reporters Without Borders, Thailand was positioned 153rd out of a total of 178 countries. In 2002, it had been in 65th position. Tyrell Haberkorn, a research fellow at the Australian National University, who has been studying press freedom in Thailand, said last night: “The effect of this is incredibly chilling This is sending a message that no matter where you write, be it online, be it on Facebook, then the state is paying attention.” 



This is the machine translated article by Google Translate. Original Chinese version is here.

Roodo wrote, "Thai News website Prachatai executive editor Jiew (Chiranuch Premchaiporn) delete the site as soon as possible because there is no forum comments on the offensive to the royal family, was charged with "insulting the royal family" . in accordance with Thailand's "Computer Crimes Act," Jiew faces a total of 10 charges, each charge punishable by up to 5 years in prison. but her lawyer said, according to "computer crime offenders" should not exceed a maximum total sentence of 20 years.

In Thailand, the royal family is an extremely sensitive political topics.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, regarded by many Thais as semi-divine respect.
June 2010 Amnesty International released statistics show that Thailand has blocked the alleged insult to the royal family, the threat to national security, 43,908 sites.


FACT: Day Four: Free speech on trial in Thailand

MICT and police lawyers testify

The trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, independent news portal Prachatai’s webmaster continued Thursday in Bangkok’s Criminal Court. Two further prosecution witnesses were called to testify.

The morning session was devoted to MICT lawyer Somsak Supajirawat. He testified to cooperating with the Royal Thai Police after they issued search warrants for the Prachatai offices and an arrest warrant for Chiranuch on March 6, 2009.

Crime Suppression Division police seized six computer’s and Chiranuch laptop. When Jiew was in police custody, her laptop disk was copied in her presence. Of course, all the information—evidence!—recovered was already on the World Wide web.

Following this arrest Chiranuch was charged with four counts of lèse majesté using Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act, each carrying a potential five-year sentence. Somsak was aware of the MICT order to block Prachatai.

However, the MICT lawyer raised serious doubts regarding the continuity, maintenance and integrity of physical, forensic and digital computer evidence as it was monitored, investigated, examined and circulated within the ICT ministry and among several police divisions.

Somsak remembered Jiew well from her arrest. It added a surreal touch to the proceedings to see another prosecution witness smile and greet Chiranuch in the courtroom while attempting to lock her up. Such sincere antics remind observers, “This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around.”

A very real person who is dedicated solely to serving the online community is fighting for her life. The adversarial justice system treats this as a game—the prosecution “wins” when a defendant goes to prison.

The afternoon session saw prosecution witness  Pairat Yawong, a private Bangkok lawyer partner of the firm Law Hom 999. A police lieutenant with Crime Suppression Division at Hua Mark police station retained Pairat for the police to examine a single posting to determine its legal status.

The witness declined to provide the officer’s name, citing legal confidentiality even though he had been paid with public funds. When questioned by the defence, Pairat refused to answer if his association with this lieutenant was in regards to the 2004 disappearance of prominent Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaichit. Somchai’s disappearance has been linked to Thai police and is the subject of ongoing legal proceedings. This case is still unsolved.

The lawyer found the posting to Prachatai’s webboard by ‘Bento’ referred to Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, as well Chitralada Palace, the Royal residence, in an oblique manner. The post mentions the Queen’s attendance at the October 12, 2008 funeral for a 28-year old Yellowshirt woman killed in clashes between police and protestors. This is simply factual reporting but was widely seen as symbolic of the Queen’s support for the PAD.

Although many social activists were killed over the six decades of this Royal family’s sovereignty, no other funeral was ever attended by a member of the Royal family. Although her attendance merely states a fact, Pairat characterised this mention as lèse majesté as it could lead the public to believe the Queen was interfering in Thai politics.

Lawyer Pairat stated that he had no opinion regarding lèse majesté (perhaps the only one in Thailand!) or any suspected movement against the monarchy but that he sometimes turned to Prachatai for news.

The witness testified that the only web fora in which he had participated were regarding legal matters and that his posts always appeared immediately suggesting no monitoring or moderation of posts.

As Pairat stated ‘Bento’’s post insulted the Queen, he said that repetition of lèse majesté could manipulate public opinion against the monarchy “because there is already a climate of public suspicion.”

Jiew’s trial is not a trial for lèse majesté because none of the posts expressed her own opinions. A free press, a free Internet and lèse majesté prosecutions are on trial in this case.

Not only Chiranuch’s freedom but the future of a free Internet is at stake.

Chiranuch’s trial resumes Friday, February 11, at Bangkok’s Criminal Court (San Aya), on Ratchadapisek Road opposite Soi 38, Lat Phrao MTR station. Chiranuch’s trial is in Courtroom 701 on February 11 and 14-17, although the judge may postpone next week to allow a schedule to hear all 28 witnesses. The case is certain to go overtime but another courtroom slot is unavailable before December.

The trial of alleged NorPhorChorUSA webmaster Tantawut Taweewarodomkul, nicknamed Kenny, also facing lèse majesté  charges under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act as well as similar Criminal Code charges finished today. A judgement will be rendered on March 15 and it appears the prosecution case is rather weak.

Kenny has been held without bail since April 2010. NorPhorChor is an acronym for the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, commonly known as the Redshirts.



CJ Hinke
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)


FACT: Day Three – Free speech on trial in Thailand

Day Three – Free speech on trial in Thailand
MICT’s legal advisor testifies: “Freedom has its limits.”

The third day for prosecution witnesses in the trial of Prachatai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn opened in Bangkok’s Criminal Court Wednesday.

We have written that Chiranuch is facing 50 years on ten charges under Thailand’s draconian Computer Crimes Act. If convicted, Chiranuch could be sentenced to 50 years, five years on each count, but in fact the maximum she could serve is 20 years.

The second witness for the prosecution, Thanit Prapathanan, a legal advisor to Thailand’s ICT ministry since 2005, testified that he had personally seen all ten comments to Prachatai’s public webboard which resulted in Jiew’s charges. The postings and comments to this forum were made anonymously. Chiranuch is charged with lèse majesté because she failed to delete them promptly.

Thanit is designated a “competent official” under the CCA with sole responsibility for protecting Thailand’s monarchy from insult. Lèse majesté is considered a threat to national security.

Thanit received the Prachatai material from the first prosecution witness, MICT’s chief censor, Aree Jivorarak, in the form of documents, DVDs, VCDs and audio CDs for his review. He forwarded these to the Ministry of Justice for their comments and then sought a court order to block Prachatai.

The material included an audio CD of a speech made from the Redshirt stage by Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, nicknamed Da Torpedo, who received an 18-year sentence for lèse majesté. A comment to one of the posts included a hyperlink to this speech on a third-party site. Although the speech was never hosted on Prachatai, MICT is alleging Prachatai is also guilty of repeating its lèse majesté and included a police transcript of the speech in their evidence against Chiranuch.

MICT’s lawyer stated that any intermediary shares the same criminal liability as the poster. Creating a hub for people to communicate and share information made Prachatai liable for all its webboard’s users.

This statement alone reinforced Thai government’s mission in this trial—to intimidate webmasters and stifle free expression among netizens. Government draws its line in the sand but never tells netizens where it is so we never know when we are crossing into criminality.

Thanit expressed concern over defence cross-examination. However, the chief judge reassured him he could reserve his answers.

The lawyer stated he knew of public opposition to the Computer Crimes Act drafted by the ICT ministry and passed by the military coup’s legislature. He said he was aware that free speech was guaranteed by the Thai Constitution—no lesser laws may restrict that right. However, Thanit said that parts of the CCA did just that. He also said he knew that lèse majesté charges have been used to silence political opponents.

In the afternoon session, MICT’s Thanit said the computer law permits prosecution of Internet intermediaries. Such charges do not require any proof of intent to defame. Such content is criminal even if only momentary on the website.

Defence lawyers pointed out that the ICT ministry’s website itself linked to media hosting lèse majesté content. The witness stated that MICT could not delete content from third parties so was, therefore not liable for their content. This appears to contradict his statements of Prachatai’s liability for postings, comments and hyperlinks not their own.

Thanit clearly stated, however, that web hosts cannot be held criminally liable for hyperlinks. A website would only be charged if it refused to delete such links at government “request”.

He said, if a web forum is public and not moderated, it can easily violate the computer law. Webmasters knowingly take that risk if they do not censor their boards in a timely fashion. However, there is no time limit—when illegal content is posted, a webmaster is guilty even if such content in promptly removed.

The MICT lawyer stated that he assessed lèse majesté on the basis of the topic, the post and comments to the post when viewed as a whole.

Thanit said it was easier for MICT to prosecute Prachatai as “IP addresses can be manipulated and posters may be hard to find”.

One of the postings for which Chiranuch is charged was titled “Ratchadamnoen, Pantip and Jae Da”. (Pantip is a highly-regulated, moderated and self-censored web forum requiring users to sign their names and provide government identification. Ratchadamnoen was Pantip’s political forum which it closed due to user comments. Jae Da refers to Darunee, Da Torpedo.) The witness stated MICT regards any reference to Da Torpedo to be illegal!

Thanit stated “the uneducated” will believe the comment, “The Queen was behind the military coup.” When the defence asked how the Queen was defamed because 2006’s was regarded as a ‘good coup’. the witness replied, “Because the coup overthrew the government and Constitution.”

Contradicting the testimony yesterday by MICT’s chief censor, Thanit said he found no evidence banned books were sold by Prachatai.

The defence cited a December 2010 report from the iLaw Foundation which found websites hosting alleged lèse majesté content had increased from 900 in 2007 to 35,000 in 2010. The witness thinks their purpose is to abolish Thailand’s monarchy.

Today’s witness closed with a rather chilling statement: “Freedom has its limits.”

Chiranuch’s trial resumes Thursday, February 10, at Bangkok’s Criminal Court (San Aya), on Ratchadapisek Road opposite Soi 38, Lat Phrao MTR station. Chiranuch’s trial is in Courtroom 701 on February 10 &11 and 14-17. The case is certain to go overtime but another courtroom slot is unavailable before December.

Alleged NorPhorChorUSA webmaster Tantawut Taweewarodomkul, nicknamed Kenny, is also facing lèse majesté  charges under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act as well as similar Criminal Code charges.

Kenny has been held without bail since April 2010. NorPhorChor is an acronym for the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, commonly known as the Redshirts. Tantawut’s trial will enter its second day Thursday, February 10 in Courtroom 906.



CJ Hinke
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)


FACT: Day Two: Free speech on trial in Thailand

Thailand’s chief censor continues in Prachatai trial

The second day in the lèse majesté trial against Chiranuch Premchaiporn, webmaster of Thai independent news portal, Prachatai, using the Computer Crimes Act began Tuesday.
Chiranuch, nicknamed Jiew, was charged over ten comments to Prachatai’s public webboard which Thai government says she was not prompt enough to delete.

Each charge carries a potential sentence of five years. Chiranuch is facing 50 years in prison for being a journalist.

Bangkok’s Criminal Court was once again filled with local and international supporters, media and foreign diplomats.

The defence cross-examination of Aree Jivorarak, chief of Thailand’s ICT ministry and Thai government’s chief censor, continued from Friday.

At today’s hearing, Chiranuch’s defence sought to examine each of the alleged comments insulting Thailand’s monarchy. The defence questioned the indirect phraseology used by the commenters.

Some examples were, does it insult His Majesty the King or Her Majesty the Queen to suggest that they supported the Thai military’s coup d’etat in 2006? Can the use of the pronouns he and she definitively be taken to mean the King, Queen or Heir Apparent? Is any discussion of Thailand’s monarchy, its meaning and duties, demeaning the institution?
One poster asked Prachatai readers to “understand” the King’s own words. Aree repeatedly applied the word “inappropriate”. Of course, inappropriate does not mean illegal!
A posting to Prachatai’s web forum included a hotlink to a audio file of of a speech made from a Redshirt stage by Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, nicknamed Da Torpedo. Darunee was torpedoed with an 18-year sentence for this instance of lèse majesté in which she called for abolition of the Royals.

The audio file was not enough for our MICT. The file was transcribed and added to the police charges against Chiranuch. However, Mediafile was not blocked and no prosecution was initiated against the file’s uploader.

This raises a crucial legal question as yet untested. Does the Computer Crimes Act criminalise hotlinks?

The MICT chief censor stated that his ministry could not pursue prosecutions but merely recommend their investigation to the Royal Thai Police. The police also are charged with tracing IP addresses suspected of illegality. In Thailand, ISPs always connect to Internet users via a telephone line which, of course, has an owner and a fixed address.

When asked if the ICT ministry was pursuing a vendetta against Prachatai, the witness stated he did not want to answer, even when directed by the judge. In fact, Aree continued to be evasive of defence questioning. This writer counted at least 34 instances in which he answered, “I’m not sure”, “I don’t remember”, and “I’d have to check”.

He also stated that the law does not have any notice-and-takedown provision. However, Aree said Chiranuch uniformly cooperated in every instance with MICT when they requested deletion of her.

Thailand’s chief censor also explained that his ministry only censors using Google Search and does not filter web fora. When asked if such filtering is done in other countries, Aree stated, “Only in China.”!

On redirect examination by the public prosecutor, the MICT censor admitted to participation in the draft of the draconian computer law promulgated by the military coup legislature. Again today, the prosecutor asked questions of this prosecution witness which contained the right answers.

On defence redirect questioning, Thailand’s censor chief also stated that he had seen banned books on sale from Prachatai. However, he could recall no specific titles and was unsure whether or not banning had taken place. He had not only not tried to buy any of these so-called banned books but wrote no report as to their sale on the website.

Although Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act requires application of a court order to block web pages, often pages were blocked months before. At least 425,296 web pages are blocked in Thailand under martial law until December 22, rising at a rate of around 690 per day.

The principles of freedom of expression as a basic human right also constitutionally protect what Thai government calls lèse majesté. What is at issue is the intent to defame. Another crucial consideration in defamation is whether the statements written are true or not.

It is clearly impossible for someone who did not write the posting to be guilty of any illegality. If government wants to censor our Internet, then it must also police the Internet. It is not the responsibility of webmasters to do government’s dirty work of censorship for them.

Chiranuch’s trial resumes Wednesday, February 9 at 9:30am, at Bangkok’s Criminal Court (San Aya), on Ratchadapisek Road opposite Soi 38, Lat Phrao MTR station. Chiranuch’s trial is in Courtroom 701 on February 9-11 and 14-17 and probably longer.

Alleged NorPhorChorUSA webmaster Tantawut Taweewarodomkul, nicknamed Kenny, is also facing lèse majesté  charges under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act as well as similar Criminal Code charges.

Kenny has been held without bail since April 2010. NorPhorChor is an acronym for the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, commonly known as the Redshirts.

Tantawut’s trial will enter its second day Wednesday, February 9 at 9am in Courtroom 904.
Darunee Charnchoensilpakul (Da Torpedo) will have her verdict read in the Appeals Court—different building on the same property as the Criminal Court—in Courtroom 708 at 9:30am. Da was arrested on July 22, 2008 for lèse majesté under Thailand’s Criminal Code Article 112. She was sentenced to 18 years on August 28, 2009 and is suffering from cancer of the jaw.



CJ Hinke
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thailand: Trial of web forum moderator jeopardizes freedom of expression

The Thai authorities should drop all charges against human rights defender and web forum moderator Chiranuch Premchaiporn, whose trial continues this week, Amnesty International said today.

Chiranuch, the Executive Director of the online newspaper and web forum Prachatai  (“Thai People”), has been accused of not removing quickly enough from the web forum a user’s comments deemed offensive to Thailand’s monarchy—a criminal offense under Thai law. 
“Chiranuch should not be in the dock,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s Thailand specialist.  “The comments for which she is being held responsible should not be prohibited in the first place—much less when they are posted by someone else.”

She has been charged under Articles 14 and 15 of the Computer-related Crimes Act of 2007, which covers the liability of online intermediaries, including internet service providers (ISPs) and website moderators.  The articles relate to supporting or consenting to an offence implicating Thailand’s national security within a computer system under one’s control. 

“Chiranuch’s arrest and trial reveal how far the Thai government is willing to go toward silencing unpopular or dissident views,” said Benjamin Zawacki.

Arrested and charged in March and April 2009 for comments posted on Prachatai  between April and August 2008, Chiranuch is accused of 10 different violations, each of which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.  Prachatai estimates that in 2008, 2,500 new comments were posted each day on the site, with Chiranuch as the sole full-time moderator.
The comments in question remained on the board for between one and 20 days.  The person who allegedly posted the comments was acquitted last month in a case against her. 

“Chiranuch’s case is significant because it threatens to ‘shoot the messenger’ in addition to criminalizing the message,” said Benjamin Zawacki.  “But it’s also just the latest in a series of attacks on freedom of expression in Thailand in recent years.” 

The Ministry of Information, Communication, and Technology (MICT) announced in June 2010 that it had blocked access in Thailand to 43,908 websites on grounds that they violated the lèse majesté law and national security.  A month later, Prachatai itself suspended its web forum due to concerted pressure and censorship by the government.  At least five additional cases were brought in 2010 under the Computer-related Crimes Act, bringing the total to 15 since 2007. 
Amnesty International has said that if Chiranuch is convicted and imprisoned, she will be a prisoner of conscience, jailed merely for exercising her “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kind”, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“As Thailand has taken upon itself to respect this Covenant and this right, ‘national security’ and  lèse majesté cannot be used as excuses for violating this right and keeping peaceful critics silent,” said Benjamin Zawacki.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn is the Executive Director and co-founder of Prachatai.  She is also a founding member of Thai Netizen Network (TNN), a group of media activists, internet users, bloggers, and IT academics who monitor violations of freedom of expression on the internet as a result of the Computer-related Crimes Act.  Chiranuch’s trial began on 4 February and is scheduled to conclude on 17 February.

In addition to this case, Chiranuch was arrested on 24 September 2010, and likewise charged under the 2007 Computer-related Crimes Act, as well as the lèse majesté law, for comments previously posted on Prachatai.  The trial hearings on those charges have not yet begun, and she is currently free on bail.

Prachatai (“Thai People”) is an online newspaper and web forum founded in 2004 by Jon Ungpakorn, a Thai Magsaysay Award laureate.  Set up in response to the curtailment of the mainstream media under the administration of then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, it has continued operating since the coup d’état  which deposed him in September 2006.  While its web forum remains suspended, Prachatai is still a source of news and commentary on social, political, and human rights issues in Thailand.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New Mandala: Interview with Chiranuch Premchaiporn, editor of

This interview with Chiranuch Premchaiporn, editor of, was conducted on 7 February 2010 by a New Mandala contributor. Chiranuch is currently on trial for allegedly breaking Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act.
On press freedom in Thailand

“When we talk about press freedom in Thailand, it’s quite controlled by the state and being manipulated by the entertainment business and the corporates. If you talk about news and politics, we cannot show as much criticism, about what the government did, right or wrong. Most of the media in Thailand is owned by the military or by the state. This is a problem of ownership.

Another problem are the main programs of the Thai media, a problem similar to some other parts of the world; media that focuses on entertainment, that doesn’t respect that the people need information… to have a healthy judgment of society.

And when we talk about the print media, they have a strong organizations… They can say more, they are freer than broadcast media. They have associations that can protect their journalists. The main problem in my view is that mainstream media do not feel as if they need protection from the state, especially under the current government. And yet self-censorship is extensive. Particularly when we speak to some issues – the military, namely, and the monarchy.

On the internet, there are many more new forms of media that do not work in the traditional way. When people who are not journalists feel they are disappointed, or upset, they start to use the internet as a new platform. It is a new channel for them to seek information on issues misrepresented in the mainstream. The internet in Thailand is considered a new platform; it is a platform in which people can engage more in politics, the right to express themselves.

These kinds of phenomena have happened since the anti-Thaksin movement started. These groups used the internet as their platform to promote their movement, and it had much success. Then, after the coup, the government has become concerned with the internet, and these new media; the new territories that they needed to control.

During the Thaksin (administration), we didn’t have difficulties in doing our work. Even though we started during a time when we thought media under Thaksin was unacceptable; we needed independent, alternative news information. We didn’t face the problems of other media, perhaps because we’d just started.

We reported on the Tak Bai Massacre in the South that many in the mainstream media didn’t report at that time; we tried to do an investigative report. But we didn’t receive any threats or intimidation from the military or the state. The threats we’ve received have been after the coup – after September 2006. The first time we were contacted by the police… including the Minister, at that time, came in October 2006, and has since been ongoing.”

On the Legal Process
“I’ve been intimidated through the law – with the legal process that I’ve been faced with. When the Computer Crimes Act came into force in July 2007, Article 15 talks about the service provider who can be charged on behalf of the people who commit the crime under Article 14. For me, when this law passed, even though I disagreed, I studied the law. I believe that there are some parts of the law that can undermine internet freedoms, can undermine the freedom of expression in Thailand, and can probably undermine the economic growth of the ICT business in Thailand. But I still believe, as I understand the law, that I complied with it. I didn’t violate this law, whether I agreed with it or not. I didn’t expect to be charged, but I was concerned that the internet (users) could be charged under the law. But it happened…

This is intimidation through the legal process. And the way that I’ve been treated. I don’t know why they needed to order an arrest warrant. I’m the one with an office! Prachatai openly produces where we live, where we work, we are easily contacted… I’m a person they can easily find. I don’t know why they need to make it seem (otherwise). Even involved as an activist, I used to be involved in protests, movements, demonstrations… I didn’t expect this kind of thing to happen to me. I have an arrest warrant, with my name on it like a criminal. I thought, “wow”. So as media, we’ve tried to be respectful, to keep our professionalism; we need that.”

On the Outcome of the Trial
“I expect justice. I still believe that justice remains in Thai society. I believe that in Thailand, we used to believe we lived in a free and open society, perhaps a long time ago. I believe in the people – in the sentiments of the people of our society. As the people, that we are not growing up in a country totally controlled. People have some experiences that they can express freely, until they face some kind of difficulties to express (themselves)… The people, the public, have the capacity to direct the country as well.”

On the future of Prachatai
“This is a tough question. Among us, we worry about finances – how we can self-sustain. But also, how we can continue our work to fill the gap in the society, to give some benefit to the society as much as possible. And these kinds of things need to be discussed… We cannot talk and make decisions for the next five years, or ten years (of Prachatai) because the situation in Thailand is such that we are in a moment that is quite uncertain… about what is going on in Thai society. But we still need to be as right as we can be, at this present time, as much as possible. The challenge is how we can maintain our force.

Prachatai’s staff are quite young, and we work quite differently from the way the mainstream media work. Our team is small… We don’t vertically assign work – we work horizontally. We work in a very democratic way… Even though democracy is inefficient, sometimes! But if we believe in democracy, we must show this in our work. Democracy is not perfect. Democracy is messy. But you need to work through it.

We’ve survived. Even in the past, when it’s been more difficult. So for now, I think we can survive.

I’m lucky that I have funding support for my legal fees, separate from Prachatai… There’s people who want to support.

If I believe in internet freedom… then I know that it’s the wrong direction, to control the internet. It will undermine the internet itself… The concept of the internet is openness. But this doesn’t mean we don’t need to do anything to control it. The internet is a new kind of media, that introduces new cultures, and new communities, other societies – the internet as a society. These kinds of society need experience, to find their norms, to find some kind of consensus agreement… It’s not about a single dictator to control everything. It’s a society, and this is an opportunity for our society to learn, to build up our consensus, our norms.”

On Prachatai’s Public Forums
“(People) want to talk about politics. About anti-coup sentiment issues, the competence or incompetence of the government, criticism of the authorities. When the Prachatai forum became more popular, this was after the coup. This was because it is difficult for people to find the space to express their concerns or opinions. But we are open. The coup should be an acceptable subject, and people have the right to criticism that. These kinds of things made Prachatai more popular. We didn’t cut people off…

We started in the Thai (language). This was our capacity. Our concern is how to be the source for the Thai public to have an independent and alternative (news) source; the mainstream media doesn’t represent this voice. I think it’s important that the people can be heard, even if they feel they can’t be heard in the mainstream media… Traditional media believe that they have to listen to people with ‘big names’, ‘important’ people. But for us, it’s important to listen to the people. So for Prachatai, it’s our duty to fill this gap; of issues, of perspective. The media has a duty to work for the people. It should be that the media can be used by the people. If the people want to be heard, we should be the channels, the tools, for people to access. This is the important work of Prachatai.

From my experience, when I used to work on HIV/AIDS, this was a sensitivity issue; the issues of gender sensitivity, of prejudice, of stigmatization. I learned it’s important for people to be sending out their voice, their issues. It’s not as though someone who ‘knows best’ should always speak; the members of the society should speak, too.

We began English (translation of Prachatai) after the coup. We already observed that there are non-Thai speakers who are interested in Thailand’s issues. In the English source newspapers in Thailand, there are issues that are missed. But we try to cover these… But in English, we only have one-and-a-half staffers to work on this. We have contributors, but we still cannot cover the daily news as do The Nation and the Bangkok Post. So we try to cover the stories that aren’t covered much; like issues of freedom of expression, of lese-majeste…
There are many Prachatai stories that I am proud of. Like our stories during the Tak Bai Massacre. The situation in the deep south at that time, when no one listened to the people… No one came to ask the witnesses, who were still alive, in the hospitals and the villages, what happened. But our reporters did, even though it was dangerous. I think this was a wonderful thing that we can be proud of. And also, during (last year’s) protests, a number of issues that Prachatai covered were the voices of the people; we tried to ask the people what their motivations were, to join the protests – what they expected from it. Whether we agree or disagree; we still have to listen. Especially from those people who’ve never been involved in Thai politics before; why they don’t keep silent, as in the past. These are important issues. We must listen to the people.

Sometimes we’ve been criticized as the ‘Red Shirt’ media; but we represent the voice of the people, regardless of what colour they are. The people have their own mind; their own will. These are the stories we must listen to.”


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Siam Voice: Observations from the trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn

By Jon Dent (Guest Contributor)
The trial of Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn – known to her friends simply as ‘Jiew’- the executive director of the independent news website began on Friday, and is slated to last until February 17. Jiew stands trial for allegedly violating Art. 14 and 15 of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA) for “intentionally supporting or consenting for crimes linked to the use of computers”. The charges against her arise from ten Lese Majestecomments made on Prachatai’s (now closed) web-message board. Despite cooperating with authorities in removing the comments posted on Prachatai by over enthusiastic readers, Jiew faces up to 20 years in prison.
Day one of the trial started with the prosecution’s testimony of Mr. Aree Jivorarak, Thailand’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology’s (MICT) IT Regulation Bureau chief. Among his other duties, Mr. Jivorarak is one of the key officials tasked with censoring Thailand’s Internet. In addition to the three young and technically savvy presiding judges sat an audience of roughly 40 concerned Thai netizens, observers from foreign embassies, NGOs, and journalists.
Anticipating Thailand’s online gate-keeper to lay out the rules, I thought I would finally learn what is allowed and what isn’t in Thailand’s cyberspace. I was in for a disappointment.
Jiew’s defense team began their cross examination with a lively discussion about blocking individual IP addresses or specific user names from accessing particular websites. While Mr. Jivorarak argued that such capabilities exist and can be easily installed to block known online deviants, he seemed to miss some key concepts of the web.
First, IP addresses register devices not individuals. Changing your IP address requires nothing more than changing computer stations. By moving from a home computer to the café wi-fi down the street, the same individual can repeatedly access a web site from different IP addresses. Changing a user ID is even simpler, since most web sites don’t place limits on user registration. Even if Prachatai had installed a program to block known trouble makers (a requirement that is not obligatory by law), there is no reason to believe it would stop a determined and reasonably capable individual from posting inflammatory comments.
For sake of argument, let us accept Mr. Jivorarak’s premise, that webmasters should (or even can) filter user comments. So where do we start? When asked by the defense team, Mr. Jivorarak could not point to any specific guidelines or regulations explaining to webmasters what exactly constitutes “bad” content that must be removed. He could only mention general regulations banning known social evils (gambling, pornography, narcotics) and Lese Majesty.  While the specific guidelines are still being drafted, in practice it is up to the “authorized officer” at the MICT to decide retroactively what stays and what goes. Such decisions are often inconsistent and subject to the personal interpretation of Thai government officials.
So what is a webmaster to do? According to Mr. Jivorarak’s testimony, it would seem that they are expected to know what a censor may find inappropriate at a future date, before the content itself has been posted. Simply put, they are expected to peer into the hearts and minds of censors through space and time to decide what goes online. Not a minor achievement of precognition and quite a burdensome requirement for anyone operating a web site.
To get a better idea of the permissible limits of online free speech, the defense tested the boundaries set by the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology. They showed Mr. Jivorarak several user comments from Prachatai’s web-board, and asked him to pick out the one forbidden comment that his team included in the charges against Jiew. The IT Regulation Bureau chief couldn’t find the single comment: He chose three.
Jon Dent is an independent researcher, human rights activist and Jedi Knight living in Thailand.

Ashoka: Prachatai's Day in Court

Submitted by Keith Hammonds on February 1, 2011 - 8:39pm.

We've written before on the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, a Thai journalist whose independent news site, Prachatai, has faced constant pressure and attack from Thailand's government. Last we checked in, in September, Chiranuch had been arrested at Suvarnabhumi Airport on her return from an Internet freedom conference in Hungary.

What's at stake: In the spring of 2008, and then again that autumn, participants in Prachatai’s web boards posted comments critical of Thailand’s monarchy. These lese majeste statements were, the government charged, a violation of the 2007 Computer-Related Offences Commission Act. As editor of Prachatai, Premchaiporn is being held liable for those reader comments, even though Prachatai removed the comments after Thai police requested it do so.

Prechaiporn has been careful not to take sides in Thailand's ongoing political conflict. Unfortunately, balanced coverage and open debate represent a threat to that country's government. As Ashoka's representative in Bangkok, Sinee Chakthranont, has written:

"Prachatai has been called a threat to national security because of its firm public commitment to providing space for diverse information and open debate. During the 2010 demonstrations and the ongoing declaration of State of Emergency, Prachatai online newspaper and Prachatai web board were listed among the 36 websites to be shut down for national security purposes. Mobile phone operators voluntarily revoked Prachatai’s text messaging news service. But readers seemed to seek information from Prachatai more than ever. Chiranuch has altered Prachatai’s web address five times, leading government censors on a cat-and-mouse chase, as a public statement that freedom of expression will not be easily contained on the Internet. She has also publicized tools for users to circumvent blocks, in addition to creating alternative ways to access and contribute to Prachatai news through online social networks like Facebook and Twitter, which are more difficult to censor in Thailand."

We are very pleased to announce that Chiranuch has just been elected an Ashoka Fellow, supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. We will continue to closely follow her case as it goes to trial on February 4. You can also follow the case on Chiranuch's own site: ("Jiew" is her nickname.)

Photo @jiew, courtesy pittaya / CC BY


BBC: Thailand Prachatai website editor Premchaiporn on trial

Chiranuch Premchaiporn pictured in November 2010
Chiranuch Premchaiporn denies all charges but if found guilty she faces up to 20 years in jail

Thailand's first trial of a website manager has opened in Bangkok, in a case being seen as a test of democracy.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn, who manages the popular Prachatai site, is accused of allowing material onto her website which threatens national security.

Prachatai was one of many sites blocked during last year's mass anti-government "red-shirt" demonstrations.

Media freedom advocates say Thailand's cyber laws allow officials to censor any politically challenging content.

Ms Premchaiporn has been testing the limits of what is possible in Thailand's fractured political scene for years.

Her website, Prachatai, offers sharp analysis and news in Thai and English. It covers stories often not tackled by the country's conservative mainstream media.

The five criminal charges she currently faces come under the country's 2007 Computer Crime Act.

They refer to content posted by readers of the site on the Prachatai message board, which discussed the place of the royal family in Thailand, and the military coup of 2006.
Out on bail for the moment, Ms Premchaiporn denies all charges. If found guilty she faces up to 20 years in jail.

Ms Premchaiporn has been accused of insulting the country's monarchy several times, a particularly serious offence here. One such case against her is still outstanding.

Media freedom advocates are critical of the computer law.

"It has become a political tool of the state to close down websites and arrest people," said Supinya Klangnarong, a media reform activist.

"The Thai state has been intensely using the act as political punishment, instead of curbing actual computer-related crimes," she said.

The law has contributed to Thailand dropping significantly in international press freedom rankings.

More on This Story

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Prachatai: First hearing on Chiranuch’s case

The trial of the Prachatai Director started with testimony from an official from the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology as a prosecution witness.  About 40 Thais and foreigners attended the hearing.

On 4 Feb, the Criminal Court started hearings in the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, who was charged under Section 15 of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act for allegedly failing to remove quickly enough from the Prachatai webboard reader comments deemed offensive to the monarchy.

MICT’s IT Supervision Office Aree Jiworarak testified as a prosecution witness that 10 threads of comments deemed offensive to the monarchy were found on the Prachatai webboard, identified to the Ministry by several persons including members of the public, military and police officers, intelligence personnel and himself.

He described to the court the procedures taken in blocking web pages, which include seeking cooperation from Internet Service Providers, asking for court orders and writing to the National Police Chief to prosecute offenders.

In cross examination, Chiranuch’s lawyer asked the witness about the criteria used in considering lèse majesté offences, the process, and the procedures to take legal actions against offenders.

The cross examination did not finish until about 4 pm, and the court adjourned the session to 8 Feb. 

About 40 Thais and foreigners, including human rights activists and representatives from foreign embassies, attended to observe the hearing.  Simultaneous translation was provided by volunteers.



Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Nation: Trial against Prachatai boss seen as test case on online freedom

Chiranuch Premchaiporn's trial over computer crime charges began yesterday and attracted some 40 supporters and observers, all of whom are interested to see how this case against the freedom of expression pans out. The accused is the director of the non-profit online newspaper

The Information and Communication Technology Ministry is charging Chiranuch of violating the computer crime law by failing to immediately remove 10 anonymous postings that allegedly defamed the monarchy from her website's webboard. According to the plaintiff, Chiranuch, as director of, should be held legally responsible as she was in charge of the board. The webboard has been removed since last July. If found guilty, she could face a combined prison term of up to 50 years.

"Obviously, it's an important test case where Internet freedom in Thailand is concerned. Obviously, the prosecutor is trying to take the case down the lese majeste track," said Shawn Crispin, the Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Crispin, who was present at the trial as an observer, said that since Chiranuch is a third party in the alleged crime, she should not be held responsible for anonymous users who cannot be prosecuted.

"It is at this juncture where the right to freedom of expression and information will be determined," Chuwat Rerksirisuk, editor of, said.

The first witness to testify and be cross-examined yesterday was Aree Jiworarak from the ICT Ministry. He told the four judges that Chiranuch should have screened the comments before allowing them to be posted on the website.

Some observers told The Nation that this suggestion goes against the nature of online communication, which is fluid and instantaneous.

In the cross-examination by Chiranuch's lawyers, Aree was asked if he could differentiate between remarks that slandered the monarchy and those that were a mere expression of opposition or disapproval of conduct related to the 2006 coup.

"Thailand has been able to survive so far because of the monarchy. We have a big debt of gratitude and what can be endured [without speaking out] should be done," Aree told the court.

In response to this, one Thai observer told The Nation that criticism should not be confused with libel.

During the testimony, Aree also warned that there were "many more" cases against in the pipeline.

While Chiranuch appeared calm and in good spirits, observers remained divided as to what will happen in the end. "This case will be used as an example [to scare others]," an observer who asked not to be named said.

The next hearing is on Tuesday and both sides have 13 witnesses lined up.


Thai webmaster faces 20 years' jail

The head of a popular Thai political website went on trial Friday, charged with violating the country's tough cyber laws in a case seen as a bellwether for freedom of expression in the politically troubled nation.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn, manager of the Prachatai website, faces up to 20 years in prison on 10 separate charges of failing to promptly remove comments posted by readers on the website that allegedly defamed the country's monarchy.

The 2007 Computer Crime Act addresses hacking and other traditional online offences, but also bars the circulation of material deemed detrimental to national security or that causes public panic. Several people have been prosecuted under the law, but Chiranuch is the first webmaster to be tried, and her case has garnered the attention of free speech advocates around the world.

The courtroom Friday was packed with observers from local and international media organisations and activist groups.

''Whether we were in favor of the law or not, we always complied with it,'' Chiranuch told The Associated Press before the trial.

Thailand's freedom of speech reputation has taken a battering in recent years, as successive governments have tried to suppress political opposition. Its standing in the Press Freedom Index issued by the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders slid to 153 last year from 65 in 2002, when the ratings were initiated.

Prachatai, which was founded by several respected journalists, senators and press freedom activists to serve as an independent, nonprofit, daily internet newspaper, has often run afoul of the government.

Chiranuch was arrested in March 2009 for the alleged offences.

''I'm not sure if Prachatai was targeted specifically,'' Chiranuch said earlier this week. ''All I can say is, given the circumstances, we were doing our job as we would normally do.''

Prachatai was one of scores of websites the government blocked during political unrest in Bangkok last year that turned violent and left about 90 people dead. The government claimed the sites stirred up unrest among ''Red Shirt'' protesters who were calling on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to hold early elections.

Supinya Klangnarong, a media reform activist, said the Computer Crime Act ''has become a political tool of the state'' to close websites and arrest people.

''The Thai state has been intensely using the act as political punishment, instead of curbing actual computer-related crimes,'' she said.

Final testimony in Chiranuch's case is scheduled for February 17.

Late last year Chiranuch was charged with another set of offences, including lese majeste - defaming the monarchy - under another controversial law. The law mandates a jail term of three to 15 years for ''whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent.''

Critics say it is mostly used as a weapon to punish political opponents, since almost any critical comment touching on the monarchy can be construed as disloyalty to the institution. As in Friday's case, Chiranuch denies breaking the law.

On Monday, the Criminal Court dropped a case against a woman accused of infringing the Computer Crime Act by posting offensive messages on the Prachatai website in 2008, saying the evidence that she had done it was inconclusive.- AP  


robilea: Day 1:Duplicitous Aree Jivorarak admits Chiranuch on trial for alleged criticism of government

Smiling, duplicitous Aree Jivorarak, Thailand’s chief censor, admitted that he had spoken with Chiranuch many times during the period she was being set up without ever telling her of the plot against her, and admitted further today that Chiranuch was not being tried for any alleged acts of lèse majesté, but for being the web director of a publication which he alleged criticized the government.

Aree admitted that his agency had tracked the IP addresses of the actual authors of the alleged acts of lèse majesté, but had chosen to persecute Chiranuch instead of to prosecute the alleged authors. Aree was unable to name the agencies, or committee members who decided that the postings on the Prachatai web board, which Chiranuch did not author and is not charged with authoring, constituted lèse majesté.

Aree refused, point blank, sullen and silent, to reply to several questions put to him by defense counsel, with the full backing of the Kangaroo Kourt.

PPT has posted FACThai’s complete account of Day One of the Regime’s farcical attempt to persecute Chiranuch and thus to silence its only mainstream critic in Thailand.
FACThai’s full account is also available locally, and in a précise.

About jfl
A 63 year-old American male living in Chiangrai, ThailandView all posts by jfl


Friday, February 4, 2011

CSMonitor: Website editor's trial in Thailand a test case for media freedom

By Simon Montlake, Correspondent / February 4, 2011
Bangkok, Thailand

The editor of the popular Thai website faces up to 50 years in jail for hosting comments that the government charges undermine national security.

In a closely watched test case for media freedom in Thailand, a website editor went on trial Friday over antimonarchy comments posted on a Web forum. Under Thailand’s tough cybercrime law, website administrators can be held liable for hosting illegal content, including material that undermines national security.

If found guilty on 10 counts, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the editor and webmaster of, faces up to 50 years in jail. She denies the charges and says that she cooperated with government requests to remove offensive postings. A verdict in the trial is expected by early April.

A close US ally, Thailand was once seen as an outpost of media freedom in Southeast Asia. But its reputation has fallen sharply in recent years. Crackdowns on political street protests have been accompanied by increased restrictions on online media, with tens of thousands of websites blocked by court order or under emergency military rule.

RELATED: The world in 2011: Trends and events to watch in every region
Media-freedom activists say Ms. Chiranuch’s case is part of this broader trend of censorship and has helped to chill online debate. Prachatai closed its online forums last year and other popular sites have either closed forums or restricted the use of anonymous comments. Web operators argue that it’s impossible to screen real-time comments for illegal content.

Shawn Crispin, a representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists who attended Friday’s hearing, said Chiranuch was the first Thai webmaster tried under the Computer Crime Act, which was passed in 2007 by a military-appointed legislature. “We believe she shouldn’t be held liable for content posted by an anonymous poster,” he says.

Much of the wave of censorship concerns the role of Thailand’s royal family in the country’s turbulent politics. Strict lèse-majesté laws prevent open discussion of the monarchy, and scores of people have been prosecuted in recent years for offending the crown. The mainstream media rarely report on such cases, and families of the accused often prefer anonymity.

During Friday’s hearing, a prosecution witness described a string of comments on Prachatai’s web forum that related to the monarchy. He claimed that the website had also hosted an audio clip by a supporter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The same activist was convicted in 2009 of defaming the monarchy and sentenced to 18 years in jail.

A separate criminal charge against Chiranuch is pending in a regional court. Under a century-old lèse-majesté law, which carries a jail sentence of up to 15 years, anyone can file a complaint for speech or words that defame members of the royal family. Foreign journalists have also faced accusations, though none have been charged.

Conservatives argue that the law is justified and accuse Mr. Thaksin's supporters of orchestrating a campaign to undermine the monarchy, which is seen as vulnerable due to the ill health of the elderly ruler, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He has been confined to a hospital since September 2009.


Thai webmaster faces 20 years for violating Internet laws

Reader comments allegedly defamed the monarchy
Fri Feb 04 2011, 11:31
A THAI WEBSITE MANAGER is facing up to 20 years in prison for failing to remove comments that were critical of the country's monarchy.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn, who manages the website, faces 10 separate charges for not promptly deleting the messages. She has been prosecuted under the 2007 Computer Crime Act, reported the Associated Press. The Act was supposed to address hacking but is now being used to "bar circulation of material deemed detrimental to national security or that causes public panic."

Websites like Prachatai were closed during the political unrest in Bangkok last year, after the government accused them of stirring up unrest among 'red shirt' protestors who wanted political change. With cases like this, the Thai state has been using the Act as a tool for political punishment, closing websites and arresting people who don't follow its authoritarian agenda.

Premchaiporn has been accused of not removing comments on bulletin boards that allegedly insulted the royal family, which comes under the broad definition of the Computer Crime Act. You can also be charged in Thailand for lèse-majesté, the simple act of insulting the monarchy, for which Premchaiporn also faces punishment.

The monarchy is a huge thing in Thailand. Respect for the King means that there are laws that can put people in prison for defaming him. This has always been the case, but the problem seems to be the way the government is using the laws to suppress the opposition and the media, rather than actually protect the royal family. µ

Kafila: My friend in Thailand, may you be free

‘Prachatai’ means “free people” in Thai. Prachatai calls itself an online newspaper, with Thai and English versions. You can see the English version here. Prachatai in the Thai internet universe is a bit like this website, Kafila, only a lot more popular. Prachatai’s webmaster, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, is facing trial for comments posted on the site that allegedly violated Thailand’s lese majeste (insulting the monarch) laws. While the lese majeste charges against the person who wrote that comment have been dropped, Chiranuch is still being charged under lese majeste and other laws, including ‘intermediary liability’ laws.

Intermediary liability laws in relation to internet freedom mean that if you post a comment on my site that violates the law, I too will be charged as having abetted the crime. India’s cyber crime laws were amended some time ago to remove the intermediary clause, not because the Government of India was concerned about free speech, but because of Ebay India, whose head was charged and arrested when a user uploaded a pornographic ‘MMS’ on Ebay India that featured minors.

I first met Chiranuch at an social media workshop in Thailand, and then again last September in Budapest, Hungary, at a Google conference on internet freedom across the world. It is curcuial to note that upon her return from Budapest, she was arrested, given bail for a very high bail amount, and fresh new charges – and a lot of them – were added against her – clearly, they don’t like her talking about internet freedom. If convicted, she faces up to 50 years in jail! See here an article in The Economist. The trial began today, 4 February, a few hours ago.

Chiranuch could easily have escaped Thailand and taken asylum elsewhere by now. She hasn’t done that because she is consciously fighting a battle for freedom of expression in Thailand. She didn’t want to run away because it would have discouraged, rather than encouraged, that crucial fight.

One expresses solidarity with her, one hopes she is free, and that her case becomes the turning point in the fight from democracy and democratic rights in Thailand. Above all, one salutes her courage. For those who are interested in the details, given below are notes from the Thai Netizen Network.