by Eddan Katz
On Friday, the Director of a popular alternative Thai news portal Prachatai was arrested by the Thai government. Chiranuch Premchaipoen — popularly known as Jiew — was charged under the intermediary liability provisions of the 2007 Computer Crime Act and for "Lèse Majesté," or defamation of the Thai royal family. She faces a 32-year prison sentence.
Jiew's crime? In 2008, Prachatai published an interview with Chotisak Onsoong, a Thai man known for refusing to stand at attention during the Thai Royal Anthem — a dangerous political act in Thailand, though not technically a crime. The interview received huge attention, drawing over 200 comments from Thai citizens. On April 28, 2008, complaints were filed against Prachatai alleging that several comments on that interview were a defamation to the Monarchy. An arrest warrant for Jiew was issued on Septemeber 8, 2009, but no summons was received by Jiew until her arrest this past Friday.
The timing of Jiew's arrest suggests that it's intended more as political intimidation than as simple law-enforcement. Jiew was arrested at Bangkok International Airport, immediately upon her return home from speaking at a pair of conferences promoting the free and open internet — The Internet at Liberty conference in Budapest, Hungary and the United Nations Internet Governance Forum in Vilnius, Lithuania. At both conferences, Jiew spoke passionately about the importance of freedom online and her innocence in the cross-fires of tumultuous Thai politics.
The arrest drew the immediate condemnation of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, and an outpouring of global support from Internet users microblogging with the tag #freejiew. A Free Jiew website went up to follow the case and to expose the decline of media freedom in Thailand. A fund was set up to help pay for her trial expenses by Digital Democracy.
For outsiders trying to make sense of political turmoil in Thailand, the common tragedy is the obstruction of individuals' freedom of expression through the misuse of media law. As Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva once explained, both democracy and reverence for the King is betrayed when Lèse Majesté is a subterfuge for political repression.
So as the Thai government sets out to tame the Internet and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya tries to frame Prachatai as an example of inciting hatred, Jiew, her fellow guardians of freedom at the Thai Netizen Network, and their friends inspire online activists across the globe to stand up against authoritarian control of the Internet.
We'll be following Jiew's story as it unfolds here at EFF.org.
UPDATE: Update: Chiranuch Premchaipoen was released on bail, and now faces 2 criminal trials for internet intermediary liability and for Lèse Majesté.