Facts concerning the Arrest of Chiranuch Premchaiporn
Prachatai online newspaper was founded in 2004 by Jon Ungpakorn under the Foundation for Community Educational Media (FCEM). It provides mainly news on social, political, and human rights issues, and publishes interviews with, and articles by, academics, activists, human rights organisations, and other NGOs.
Prachatai also hosts an online TV programme “The Country Is Not Ours”, an online radio programme “Prachatai Radio”, a blog service “Blogazine”, and formerly hosted an online forum “Prachatai Webboard”.
The online forum was separated into two sections:
● “Society and Politics” for general issues.
● “Pro-Democracy... Anti-Dictatorship”, opened later under community-based management, requiring members to log in to post.
Prachatai Webboard enjoyed huge popularity. In 2008 there were 250 new topics and 2,500 new comments per day, but only one full-time moderator. Around 20 forum members voluntarily reported problems but did not operate according to a schedule. The online forum was voluntarily shut down by Prachatai on July 31, 2010, for several reasons, including legal liability for user-generated content and the risk of users coming under surveillance after new measures such as the “Cyber Scouts” were announced by the government.
Public internet access to all sections in Prachatai except the forum was blocked for the first time on April 8, 2010, a few days ahead of the security forces’ attempt to disperse the Red Shirt protest on Rajadamnern Street in Bangkok. The Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation used the Emergency Decree to order censorship, of websites and other media, which is still in force to day.
About the Computer-Related Crime Act (BE 2550)
The sections of the act relevant to this case are:
Any person who commits an offence by any of the following acts shall be subject to imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than one hundred thousand baht or both:
(1) that involves import into a computer system of forged computer data, either in whole or in part, or false computer data, in a manner that is likely to cause damage to a third party or the public;
(2) that involves import into a computer system of false computer data in a manner that is likely to damage the country’s security or cause public panic;
(3) that involves import into a computer system of any computer data related with an offence against the Kingdom’s security under the Criminal Code;
(4) that involves import to a computer system of any computer data of a pornographic nature that is publicly accessible;
(5) that involves the dissemination or forwarding of computer data already known to be computer data under (1) (2) (3) or (4);
Any service provider intentionally supporting or consenting to an offence under Section 14 within a computer system under their control shall be subject to the same penalty as that imposed upon a person committing an offence under Section 14.
On March 6, 2009, at around 14.30, police officers came to arrest Chiranuch at the Prachatai office. The officers showed first a search warrant and later an arrest warrant. The charge was according to Section 15 of the Computer-Related Crime Act. The offence in this case concerned a forum topic that contains defamation of the monarchy posted by a forum member on October 15, 2008. Chiranuch denied all charges.
The officers confiscated Chiranuch’s laptop and copied all the data for forensic procedures. Two similar copies were made for both sides to prevent any alteration.
On April 7, 2009, the police filed nine further charges against Chiranuch according to nine forum topics posted by members between April to August, 2008. The police then sent the case file to the public prosecutor on June 1, 2009.
On March 31, 2010, the public prosecutor filed ten charges against Chiranuch for the ten forum topics posted at different times. However, all the offending topics had already been removed well before the arrest.
According to Section 15 of the Computer-Related Crime Act, the penalty is the same for offences described in Section 14, which is imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than 100,000 Baht or both. Therefore the highest possible penalty for Chiranuch is 50 years in prison or a 1,000,000 Baht fine.
The Legal Timeline
March 6, 2009 - Police officers applied a search warrant and an arrest warrant. Chiranuch was given bail.
April 7, 2009 - The police filed additional charges.
June 1, 2009 - The police handed the case file to the public prosecutor. Chiranuch was again bailed out, but had to continue reporting to the Attorney-General’s Office every 30 days. She was later allowed to report every 60 days instead after a formal request was made.
March 31, 2010 - The public prosecutor filed charges in court. Chiranuch was briefly imprisoned for three and a half hours before getting bail.
May 31, 2010 - A preliminary hearing was held to schedule witness hearings. The court has scheduled final agreement by both sides ton the witness and evidence list for
November 8, 2010.
Witness hearings will be held in early February 2011. The dates for the prosecution are 4, 8, 9, and 10, and for the defendant 11, 15, 16, and 17.
Reactions from the Government
On March 11, 2009, soon after the arrest, a group called Thai Netizen Network filed a complaint with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The Prime Minister said that he had no policy on this and believed that a solution should be discussed.
On March 14, 2009, in a speech at St. John’s College, Oxford University, the Prime Minister mentioned that this case was “a misunderstanding and perhaps not following the standard operating procedures”.
In a keynote address to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand at the Intercontinental Hotel on January 14, 2010, the Prime Minister, after answering questions on the lèse majesté law, spoke of his “regret” and explained that “[the case] was actually an exception because we had actually invited all the stakeholders and thought we had a good standard operating procedure. But that case was really an exception”.
On June 15, 2010, about one month after an announcement of the National Reconciliation Roadmap, ICT Minister Juti Krairiksh gave an interview on website regulation. He mentioned this case, saying that there was a problem in censorship “in the example of Prachatai, the owner of the website who is a lady has proficiently coordinated with other countries by sending them a photo of her behind prison bars to accuse the government of suppressing freedom of the press,
so we have to negotiate in keeping with the reconciliation roadmap”.