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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ashoka: Prachatai's Day in Court

Submitted by Keith Hammonds on February 1, 2011 - 8:39pm.

We've written before on the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, a Thai journalist whose independent news site, Prachatai, has faced constant pressure and attack from Thailand's government. Last we checked in, in September, Chiranuch had been arrested at Suvarnabhumi Airport on her return from an Internet freedom conference in Hungary.

What's at stake: In the spring of 2008, and then again that autumn, participants in Prachatai’s web boards posted comments critical of Thailand’s monarchy. These lese majeste statements were, the government charged, a violation of the 2007 Computer-Related Offences Commission Act. As editor of Prachatai, Premchaiporn is being held liable for those reader comments, even though Prachatai removed the comments after Thai police requested it do so.

Prechaiporn has been careful not to take sides in Thailand's ongoing political conflict. Unfortunately, balanced coverage and open debate represent a threat to that country's government. As Ashoka's representative in Bangkok, Sinee Chakthranont, has written:

"Prachatai has been called a threat to national security because of its firm public commitment to providing space for diverse information and open debate. During the 2010 demonstrations and the ongoing declaration of State of Emergency, Prachatai online newspaper and Prachatai web board were listed among the 36 websites to be shut down for national security purposes. Mobile phone operators voluntarily revoked Prachatai’s text messaging news service. But readers seemed to seek information from Prachatai more than ever. Chiranuch has altered Prachatai’s web address five times, leading government censors on a cat-and-mouse chase, as a public statement that freedom of expression will not be easily contained on the Internet. She has also publicized tools for users to circumvent blocks, in addition to creating alternative ways to access and contribute to Prachatai news through online social networks like Facebook and Twitter, which are more difficult to censor in Thailand."

We are very pleased to announce that Chiranuch has just been elected an Ashoka Fellow, supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. We will continue to closely follow her case as it goes to trial on February 4. You can also follow the case on Chiranuch's own site: ("Jiew" is her nickname.)

Photo @jiew, courtesy pittaya / CC BY


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