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Thailand: Web director arrested for “allowing offensive comments”

Prachatai web director Chiranuch Premchaiporn was arrested by police yesterday for “disseminating lese majeste content on the website.” To put it in another way, she was arrested for allowing comments on the website which the police deemed as offensive to the monarchy. Chiranuch is now out on bail.

Prachatai is an independent and popular website in Thailand. It is an important source of alternative news in Thailand. The website has been censored many times. More than 20 pages on Prachatai have been blocked by authorities in the last five months. The arrested editor has been summoned by the police for eight times already to answer questions about the content of the website.

In Thailand, there is a “draconian” computer crime bill that states that any service provider who deliberately let a third party post anything that violates the law is also subject to the same liability as the person who committed the offense. Excerpts from the 2007 Computer Crime Act which the Prachatai editor allegedly violated:

Article 14. If any person commits any offence 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 to 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 that third party or the public;

(2) that involves import to a computer system of false computer data in a manner that is likely to damage the country's security or cause a public panic;

(3) that involves import to 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);

Article 15. 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

Thailand has been very strict in implementing the lese majeste law. It jailed an Australian writer for “insulting” the Thai King who is the most beloved figure in the country. A Bangkok-based academic recently fled the country to escape prosecution (and “unfair trial”) for the same crime. Almost 5,000 webpages have been blocked since March last year because they contain content deemed insulting to the royal family.

thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej is a revered figure in Thailand. Picture from the Flickr page of ccdoh1

What are some of the comments of internet readers and bloggers?

Hobby believes the arrest will worsen the political climate in Thailand:

They are just making things worse for themselves – will they never learn? It might have been possible in the old days to have the total control they want, but those days are long gone – unless they want to be like Burma or North Korea, in which case they can kiss the tourism golden egg goodbye!

Bob notes that the arrest was made on the same day the Prime Minister vowed to honor press freedom:

How ironic that on the same day that Thailand's most active and informative news website is being threatened and its editor arrested, the Prime Minister is simultaneously making a speech in Bangkok about increasing Press freedom in Thailand

Asian Human Rights Commission believes this is part of the government agenda to intimidate critics:

There can be little room for doubt that this raid is part of the systematic ultraconservative agenda since the 2006 army coup to intimidate and silence critics, human rights defenders and social activists in Thailand. In fact, the odious law under which the raid and arrest warrant have been issued is one of the main planks in the platform designed to be built over the heads of dissenters in Thailand that was given effect by an assembly of military appointees in 2007.

FACT – Freedom Against Censorship Thailand accuses authorities of stifling freedom of thought in the country:

Thai authorities want to stop freedom of thought, freedom of opinion, free discussion and free expression in Thailand, whether voiced on the Internet or through books, news, opinion and editorial articles, films and broadcast media. What kind of society can be have without being able to freely dialogue with one another?

Teeranai Charuvastra suggests that the real target of the police is the web commenter, not the editor:

It has been suggested that perhaps the real reason behind this raid is that the police want to get hold of a certain webboard user, hence the explanation for why the Computer Crime law was used – not the infamous Lese Majeste – and the fact that only Ms. Chiranuch, who’s the webboard administrator, is arrested.

Anyway, I have no clue how to deal with this. Any protest won’t turn out fruitful, you know the Thai media.

Siam Report blames the vagueness of the law which allows authorities to use it against perceived enemies of the state:

It seems the lack of clarity creates conditions rife for political manipulation and abuse. I suppose if it is clearly defined, then I could be guilty for ignorance of the law.

Breaking Tweets gathers reactions from Twitter.

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