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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Website arrest was unwise and politically wrong

By The Nation
Published on September 27, 2010

Jiranuch's detention a real spoiler of hopeful peace moves

It was so absurd some people saw it as an anti-government conspiracy. The arrest on Friday of a senior staff of the Prachathai website, Jiranuch Premchaiporn, who was accused of disseminating lese majeste contents on her website, which is perceived as being sympathetic to the red shirts, was uncalled for and very counter-productive politically. Whether she would be released or not doesn't matter. Damage has been done, and what a timing. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was in New York when the chief of a rebellious yet respected news website was detained.
Jiranuch, 43, was detained at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport upon returning from Finland where she had attended a media liberty event. She was taken into police custody at a time when "reconciliation" at long last was being taken seriously thanks to positive gestures from Thaksin Shinawatra, the peaceful rally of the red shirts a week ago, a campaign by a coalition partner as well as lobbying efforts by Deputy Prime Minister Sanan Kachornprasart. If none of the "signals" truly represents real hope for political peace, at least they did not serve to widen the national divide. Jiranuch's arrest, on the other hand, was the real spoiler.

Prachathai has for years been serving as an alternative news website. Sometimes this news and commentary outlet became controversial, but which news organisation hasn't in the midst of our political crisis? Prachathai's role is not much different from ASTV's website except for the fact that they are on the opposite side of the conflict. When it comes to hard-lined comments, stances and overzealous readers, both news outlets probably cannot beat each other. This only means the Thai authorities must be very careful in dealing with the freedom of expression flourishing on both websites to avoid charges of discrimination, injustice or double-standards.

Like the rest of the world, Thailand has been grappling with the new-found freedom provided by the digital media. The US authorities' problem with confirms that even the biggest flag-bearer of democracy doesn't quite know how to handle the phenomenon or navigate the increasingly blurry line between freedom and national (or even international) security. Thanks to our long-lasting serious political conflict, Thailand can probably say we have had a head-start when it comes to dealing with the "freedom" issue. This, however, doesn't mean we know better, as underlined by various incidents which have been capped by Jiranuch's detention.

The action against Jiranuch is unwise and politically wrong, considering its potential effects on fledgling reconciliation efforts. Moreover, people who know Jiranuch- including many fellow journalists- speak of a decent person who can be anything but a threat to national security. A hard-liner she probably is, but an insurgent she is absolutely not. That the arrest triggered a storm of criticism and drew much attention on social media on Friday should provide the government with enough clues how society perceives this latest political incident.

Chiranuch, as a former web master of the now defunct prachatai's webboard, which staff insist is separated from the newspaper, has an ongoing case against her for violating the computer crime law. The charges came after a number of postings by web board members were deemed to constitute an act of lese majeste.

Like it or not, the arrest will draw local and international attention back toward the lese majeste issue. This is unhealthy and could even be more damaging to the beloved monarch than offensive comments on websites themselves. Of course, the laws are there and there may have been some violations, but this is an issue that deserves everything but rigid legal enforcement. Tolerance, understanding, maturity and sympathy must be allowed to play key roles - not only for offenders' sake, but also for everyone's as well as our nation as a whole.

Via : The Nation's Editorial

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