The director of political news website Prachatai.com has been released on bail as media freedom activists blasted authorities over her arrest on charges of violating the Computer Crime Act and committing lese majeste.
Chiranuch Premchaiporn, 43, who was detained by police at Suvarnabhumi airport on Friday upon her return from a conference in Hungary on media freedom, was granted bail about 1am yesterday.
Bail of 200,000 baht in cash was paid on her behalf and she was released on condition she report to the Khon Kaen Muang district police station - where she was taken for questioning after her arrest - on Oct 24.
She faces charges of lese majeste and violating the Computer Crime Act for allegedly disseminating content deemed insulting to the monarchy through Prachatai.com.
Chatpong Pongsuwan, the Khon Kaen police investigator overseeing the case, said on Friday that an individual whose identity was not disclosed had lodged a complaint against Ms Chiranuch in 2008.
Supinya Klangnarong, coordinator of the Thai Netizen Network, said she believed Ms Chiranuch's arrest would draw international attention to the deteriorating state of media freedom in Thailand.
Thai Journalists Association president Prasong Lertratanawisute said he was concerned that proper procedure had not been observed in Ms Chiranuch's case. He said his association has been calling for a review of the Computer Crime Act for the past few years.
Ubonrat Siriyuwasak, a journalism academic, said Ms Chiranuch's arrest was not conducive to the "government-sponsored media reform atmosphere", referring to the Abhisit government's campaign to reform the media as part of national reconciliation efforts.
Ms Ubonrat said the government had exploited media technology for its own political purposes, yet it wanted to prevent Thailand's online society from becoming vibrant and healthy for fear of a backlash.
There were efforts to curb free speech rather than promote and protect an open atmosphere for political discussions in cyberspace, she said.
Amnesty International yesterday released a statement condemning Ms Chiranuch's arrest.
"The Thai government has frequently used the 2007 Computer-related Crimes Act to uphold the country's lese majeste law in a growing trend of censorship to silence peaceful political dissent," the statement said.
"The lese majeste law goes beyond reasonable restrictions on freedom of expression provided for under international human rights law."
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also condemned Ms Chiranuch's arrest. Shawn Crispin, its senior Southeast Asia representative, said the government should stop using anti-monarchy charges to suppress legitimate criticism.
Ms Chiranuch was arrested on March 6 last year when police raided Prachatai's Bangkok news office and seized computer equipment.
She was later released on bail, but remains involved in court proceedings over comments allegedly critical of a member of the royal family posted on one of Prachatai's discussion forums.
The latest charges against Ms Chiranuch come amid an intensifying crackdown on Thai media, according to CPJ research.
Since imposing a state of emergency on April 7, the Abhisit government has closed a satellite television news station, community radio stations, print publications and websites aligned with the anti-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship movement, said the CPJ.