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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Censoring Liberty in Thailand

AUTHOR: Mark Belinsky

Thai journalist and anti-censorship activist is detained & released on bail 12 hours later

(updated at 5:30pm EDT following Jiew’s release from Thai authorities)

September 24, 2010: New York, NY —Chiranuch Premchaiporn, known as Jiew — an advocate, founder and manager of a leading independent news website in Thailand — was detained today in the Bangkok airport upon return from the “Google Internet at Liberty” conference hosted in Budapest, Hungary. Held by police for over 12 hours, she was released on bail in the early hours of the morning in Khon Kean province, 400 kilometers northeast of Bangkok.

Already indicted under ten charges of the Thai New Computer Crime Act, she is set to go on trial in February. Jiew was previously detained on charges related to content posted by users on a website she runs for the independent news organization, Prachathai, which means “Free People” in English. Under local laws, those who run sites are responsible for all content on them, including comments. Under lese majeste laws, it is illegal to criticize the royal family. Authorities say she did remove such comments quickly enough.

Today, police presented her with a warrant issued in response to a complaint filed by Khon Kaen resident Sunimit Chirasuk on 11 August 2008, according to Reporters Sans Frontieres. Charges against her include violations of criminal law articles 83, 85 and112 (lese majeste), and 116 and Computer-related Crime Act articles 14 and 15 (regarding intermediaries).

Friends in Thailand were able to pay the 200,000 Baht bail (about $6500 USD) and secure her release about 12 hours following her arrest. Jiew will be required to travel 450 km from her home in Bangkok every  month to report the local police. Her next appearance is scheduled for 24 October 2010.

“Thailand must admit it’s not a real democracy. You cannot talk freely about many things,” Jiew told reporter Andrew Marshall last spring. The result of her eventual trial will carry enormous implications for the future of online speech in Thailand.

Her arrest at 230p Thai local time followed her presentation at the Google Internet at Liberty Conference in Budapest, Hungary,  where she discussed the implications of Thai censorship for journalists, activists, and businesses there. In recent years, Thailand has censored sites including YouTube and blocked the Google Apps Engine.

Activists in Thailand and globally contributed to an online campaign to free her is using the hashtags #freejiew and #ial2010 on Twitter, and created the website to raise funds and awareness.

“Jiew’s arrest sends a dangerous message to the people of Thailand and has implications for the rest of the region,” said Mark Belinsky, Co-director of Digital Democracy, who was recently in Hungary with her. “Detaining her for other people’s actions is unacceptable,” said Belinsky. Digital Democracy first profiled Jiew and Prachathai in a web episode of DdTv broadcast in November 2009.

Upon her release, Jiew wrote via Twitter, “Finally, I’m free by bail out. Thanks for all support.”

Digital Democracy is helping to solicit donations to contribute to her legal fund. Donate to Jiew’s legal fund by contributing to Digital Democracy’s Chipin Campaign.

Helpful links:

Digital democracy films interview with Jiew and Prachathai office –

Prachathai English


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