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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rights groups condemn arrest of Thai Internet editor

BANGKOK (AFP) - – Rights groups on Saturday slammed the arrest of a Thai news website editor as she returned from an Internet freedom conference on charges of insulting the monarchy and breaching computer law.

Immigration police detained Chiranuch Premchaiporn, who runs the popular and independent Prachatai website, as she arrived at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport on Friday afternoon after attending the international meeting in Hungary.

The 43-year-old was charged over messages posted on the site under Thailand's Computer Crime Act and strict lese majeste rules, before being taken to a northeastern province and bailed early Saturday, police said.

Amnesty International, press freedom group Reporters without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPF) called on the authorities to immediately drop the charges against Chiranuch, which she denies.

"We call for Chiranuchs immediate release and the withdrawal of the charges against her so that we do not have to witness another attempt to exploit the Computer Crimes Act to silence the regimes critics," RSF said.

"Prachatai is a reliable source of news and information that has managed in recent months to keep the public informed about what is going on in Thailand."

Shawn W. Crispin, CPJs Southeast Asia representative, said the government "should stop using anti-crown charges to suppress legitimate criticism".

Chiranuch was previously arrested and released on bail on similar charges in March, and she is awaiting trial over these allegations.

If found guilty she faces up to 50 years in prison under the Computer Crimes Act and lese majeste rules for failing in 2008 to remove comments deemed to insult the monarchy with sufficient speed from the site, RSF said.

It was not clear if the new charges were linked to the same case.

Her arrest came as Thailand faces ongoing criticism for suppressing freedom of speech using a sweeping emergency rule, which remains in place in Bangkok and six other areas following political unrest in April and May.

Two months of mass anti-government rallies by the "Red Shirts", who were seeking immediate elections, sparked clashes with security forces that left 91 people dead, mostly civilians, and nearly 1,900 injured.

The authorities have used the emergency powers to arrest hundreds of suspects -- including most of the top leaders of the Red Shirts -- and shut down anti-government TV channels, newspapers, radio stations and websites.


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