Surapak Puchaisaeng is a computer programmer who was arrested on lese majeste and Computer-related Crime Act charges on 1 September 2011. He was aged 40 at the time. Lawyer Lomrak Meemeuan says police arrested him for allegedly insulting the king on a Facebook page.
A later statement says that Surapak was arrested by about 10 plain clothes Department of Special Investigation officers at his apartment in Bangkok. Surapak states that the police accused him of creating an offending Facebook page. He denied all knowledge of this, of the username Dork Or (“ดอกอ้อ”) and involvement with the website Nor Por Chor USA. He is quoted: “I denied all knowledge, but they tried to force me to sign a confession. I went to telephone a lawyer, but they took the mobile phone from me.” He said that he then signed the confession and gave his password as he was afraid. He was only able to contact a lawyer when taken to DSI HQ. He is seeking bail.
Surapak’s case carried the dubious distinction of being the first lese majeste arrest under the Yingluck Shinawatra government, although investigations began under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.
A later Prachatai account provides different details of the case. It says the 40-year-old software developer arrested by Technology Crime Suppression Division police on 1 September 2011 and accused of being the owner of a Facebook page entitled ‘I shall reign with … [censored]’ which allegedly contained messages offensive to the monarchy. Suraphak has denied all charges.
Surapak says the police seized his mobile phone, two computers and a laptop, and refused him access to friends, witnesses and lawyers until he was taken to the TCSD office for further interrogation.
He claims the police did not produce any evidence to substantiate the allegations, and simply told him that a student had filed a complaint about the Facebook page and a witness had identified him.
Surapak was indicted on 25 November 2011, with no bail and two previous requests for bail have been refused.
Freedom House issued a Freedom Alert on this case on 8 September 2011 (see below).
His trial began on 18 September 2012 and concluded after just 4 days.
The gist of the proceedings seems to be an accusation rather than evidence, with a police colonel from the Technology Crime Suppression Division stating that Surapak “admitted after his arrest and during an initial probe that he was the owner of the email address and Facebook page” that were said to be involved with lese majeste content. As noted above, Surapak “denied all knowledge, but they tried to force me to sign a confession. I went to telephone a lawyer, but they took the mobile phone from me.” He was denied access to a lawyer for some time.
The policeman, presumably one of those involved in denying Surapak he legal and constitutional rights, stated that it was only when “the defendant learned that he could be charged under Section 112, the so-called lese majeste law, he pleaded not guilty…”.
Surapak’s own evidence appears in line with that noted above. He denied “an association with the email and Facebook page alleged by the police as being used to display messages deemed insulting to the monarchy.” He stated that he was denied a lawyer and that the policeman cited above, “Pisit Paoin, deputy commander from the Technology Crime Suppression Division, told him to write down the suspected email address and Facebook page on a piece of paper…”, and had him sign it. He “denied the document proved his authorship of the email and ownership of the Facebook page. He also denied all charges.” In addition, Surapak pointed to the “temporary files which the police entered as evidence proving an association between the email and Facebook page and his two computers were not credible.” Finally, he “pointed to a Microsoft report entered as evidence by the prosecutor which showed an attempted link to his computer through Wifi on Sept 7, five days after he was arrested.”
On this technical matter, Surapak was supported by a “defence witness, Kittipong Piyawanno, a lecturer at the Royal Thai Navy Academy’s Engineering Department, [who] argued that police evidence supposedly showing log files of the suspected Facebook page appeared incomplete and irregular.” He stated that “if a Facebook use is to appear in the cache file, it must be in the form of PHP, not HTML as shown in the evidence. He said the source post provided by the police looked like it was created manually.” He added that “the police evidence also showed that the computer was activated twice while it was not in the possession of the defendant.”
Kittipong concluded that as “the computer forensic police did not appear to follow the appropriate protocol in its handling of the exhibit computers, the resulting evidence is not credible…“. Kittipong added: “The reliability [of the claimed evidence] is almost nil…”. He went on to say that “if an innocent person were sentenced under the lese majeste law or the Computer Crimes Act, not only would the person develop a negative impression about the monarchy, but the monarchy would be negatively affected as well.” And, to finish, he is said to have “criticised the activities of the so-called cyber-scouts and ultra-royalists, saying that going on a witch-hunt was not the right way of expressing love for the monarch.”
The Nation newspaper had a story headlined: I’ve been framed: Lese majeste man. That seems an appropriate description.
While the accounts of the evidence are incomplete in the newspaper reporting, there certainly appears to be little substantial evidence in this case. Surapak may well be one of those in the tiny 4-5% who get off lese majeste and computer crimes charges, but the recent behavior of the courts suggest that acquittal is unlikely. We hope we are wrong. At the very least, Surapak should be bailed immediately.
The court delivered its verdict on 31 October 2012, and agreed that Surapak deserved the “benefit of the doubt.” The “doubt” was that the HTML files on his computer were not cached when browsing Facebook but were pasted into Mr Surapak’s computer. This suggests that the computer used as evidence was tampered with, probably by the police. PPT is overjoyed that Surapak joins the 5% who have been acquitted and that the court appears to have taken evidence seriously in a lese majeste case. That is a significant change.
Prachatai published a translation of the verdict, which PPT reproduces here, in full:
The prosecutor accused the defendant of creating a personal e-mail account, email@example.com, and using it in the capacity as the owner to create a Facebook profile titled, ‘I shall reign by staging coups’. The defendant wrote messages deemed insulting, defaming and threatening to His Majesty the King, and imported those messages, or false computer data, into a computer system. The prosecutor asked [the court] to punish [the defendant] according to Sections 33, 91, and 112 of the Criminal Code and Sections 3, 14, and 17 of the 2007 Computer-related Crimes Act, and confiscate all evidence.
The defendant pleaded not guilty.
[The court] considers that, according to evidence shown to the court by the prosecutor, it does not appear that the defendant has the e-mail account firstname.lastname@example.org or the password for the Facebook account ‘I shall reign by staging coups’ which was registered in the system. It was learned that the password which the defendant wrote for police officers was merely the password to open the defendant’s notebook computer, and was the same one for the defendant’s e-mail account email@example.com and Facebook account. Normally, an account user would keep secret his passwords for e-mail or Facebook accounts to prevent access by other people. But after the defendant was arrested and detained, the e-mail account firstname.lastname@example.org continued to be active.
According to the prosecutor, the fact that the password for an e-mail address is found in the computer of an individual and that the e-mail address is used to log in to a Facebook account is evidence that that individual owns that Facebook account. This is merely the understanding of prosecution witnesses, without other corroborating evidence being presented. On examination, the computer files InboxLight.htm, which logs the use of the email account email@example.com, and home.htm, which refers to the Facebook profile ‘I shall reign by staging coups’, were [allegedly] found in the defendant’s notebook computer which has been seized as evidence, and it was found that the email and Facebook accounts were accessed on 2 and 8 January 2011, respectively, which predated the postings of the messages as charged by the prosecutor by several months. If the notebook computer was really used to post the messages, logs of computer use should have been found to match the time of the postings, but nothing has been found, and no connection has been found between the email address firstname.lastname@example.org and the Facebook account ‘I shall reign by staging coups.’
Furthermore, such computer files can be copied from other computers in less than a second, and the defence argued that the computer files could never be found in the computer’s normal data storage, were not created during internet use, but were produced and imported into on the seized computer. The properties of the files are found to be irregular in terms of time. During the trial, defence witnesses showed the court how the copying of such files could in fact be done. Considering in detail the forensic report on the seized computer, the court found many irregularities as had been attested by the defence
The court has to take into account the credibility of how the original data was preserved, because each start-up of the computer results in certain automatic changes and data can be easily altered or modified. It appears that after the defendant was detained and his notebook computer was seized by the police, the computer was started up on 2 September 2011 at 20.13.44 hrs and on 7 September 2011 at 21.12.07 hrs, before the computer was sent to the forensic police officer for examination, and this could allow modifications of the data of the seized computer. Therefore, the results of the examination of the computer are flawed and unreliable, and it cannot be clearly concluded that the data pertaining to the use of the email account email@example.com and Facebook account ‘I shall reign by staging coups’ results from the use of the defendant’s notebook computer
The evidence attested by the prosecutor contains reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant committed the alleged offences. The court decides to give the defendant the benefit of the doubt according to Section 227, Paragraph 2, of the Criminal Procedure Code.
Media accounts of Surapak’s case:
Red Shirts blog, 2 December 2012: “The Remarkable 112 Community“
Reporters Without Borders, 2 November 2012: “Netizen freed for lack of evidence in lèse-majesté case“
Prachatai, 2 November 2012: “An interview with the lawyer for a victim of the lèse majesté law and the Computer-related Crime Act“
Prachatai, 2 November 2012: “Official summary of court verdict on Suraphak’s case“
AP, 31 October 2012: “Thai man acquitted of insulting king on Facebook“
Bangkok Post, 31 October 2012: “Surapak acquitted of lese majeste“
The Nation, 23 September 2012: “I’ve been framed: Lese majeste man“
Bangkok Post, 22 September 2012: “Criminal Court to rule on Surapak case on Oct 31“
Bangkok Post, 21 September 2012: “No trace of Facebook entry found in seized computers“
The Nation, 20 Septermber 2012: “Protesters rally for release of lese majeste prisoners“
Bangkok Post, 18 September 2012: “Programmer on trial for lese majeste“
Bangkok Post, 18 September 2012: “Rich get bail, while poor go to jail“
Bangkok Post, 6 August 2012: “LM convict’s mum wants him bailed“
Prachatai, 29 November 2011: “Facebook user indicted for lèse majesté“
Prachatai, 15 October 2011: “Singaporean gets 15 years for lèse majesté“
Phuket News, 9 September 2011: “Man held for lese majeste“
Freedom House, 8 September 2011: “Thai Computer Programmer Detained After Criticizing Monarchy on Facebook“
Bangkok Pundit, 7 September 2011: “Thai arrested for Facebook comment“
ZDNet, 6 September 2011: “Man arrested for allegedly insulting Thailand’s king on Facebook“
The Examiner, 6 September 2011: “Felonious: Man could serve 15 years for ‘defaming’ Thailand’s king“
Washington Post, 5 September 2011: “Thai computer programmer charged with insulting Thailand’s revered king on Facebook“