On 14 October 2009 there were a series of rumors that the king was seriously ill or had died. This caused a huge sell-off on the stock exchange in Bangkok, amounting to about 8%. Immediately, the then Abhisit Vejjajiva-led coalition government began a search for those responsible for the rumors.
On 1 November, it was reported that two suspected rumor mongers had been arrested following the government’s witch hunt. Both were initially held under the Computer Crimes Act. PPT adds the two suspects to our list of pending cases as the cases they face are politically motivated and related to the monarchy.
The government regularly uses charges of acts against “national security” to arrest and restrict people. By doing this, it can claim to be interested in the rule of law when, in fact, it is just a repressive and authoritarian government attempting to bolster its own hold on political power.
Those investigated are 47 year-old Miss Thiranan Vipuchanun (น.ส.ธีรนันต์ วิภูชนิน) who is said to be a former director of a finance and securities trading firm (said to have been UBS) and 37 year-old Mr. Khatha Pachachirayapong (นายคทา ปาจริยพงษ์), an employee in the trading a securities trading firm. He worked at KT Zmico Securities.
Reuters reports that Thiranan stated after her arrest: “What I’ve done was translating documents from foreign media Bloomberg,” and she states: “I got it from Internet…. Everybody on that day wanted to know what caused the market to fall. The stock market had already dropped and we did the translation in the evening.” She posted the translation to Prachatai’s web board. Khatha is said to have posted the same or similar message to Fa Diew Kan’s web board.
MCOT English News reports that Thiranan was “arrested with a warrant charging her with feeding false information through a computer system, which undermined Thailand’s national security or which caused panic among the public.” The Wall Street Journal reported that the accused “face up to five years in prison and a $3,000 fine each if convicted.” The Times Online reports that Thiranan Vipuchanun was released on 100,000 baht bail on 2 November 2009. It was later reported that Khatha had also been bailed.
The Bangkok Post reports that the police state that the “Information and Communication Technology Ministry will decide whether to close down the websites which carried the rumours.”
On 3 November 2009 police arrested the third suspect who they said “circulated inauspicious rumors about the health of His Majesty the King which resulted in the recent plummeting of the Thai stock market.” The arrest is said to have been made ” after the court’s warrant was issued by the South Bangkok Criminal Court for Mr Somjet Itthiworakul, who was chaalleged to have violated Section 14 of the Computer-Related Crime Act BE 2550 by feeding false statements in the computer network that caused harm to national security and the public.” Somjet was “arrested in Chon Buri province and was … taken to Bangkok for further questioning.”
The political nature of these cases is confirmed in another Bangkok Post article where there is this statement (with no attempt to do anything other than make an accusation) that: “Both websites are known to present articles seen to be offensive to the monarchy.” The websites are Fa Diaw Kan and Prachatai.
On 18 November 2009 Dr. Thatsaporn Rattanawongsa was arrested when police “raided Thon Buri Hospital and arrested Dr Thatsaporn as she was waiting to start her shift in the hospital.” They then searched “her residence in Sapan Kwai area to search for more evidence.” The police allege that she “joined three other suspects who were arrested earlier in spreading the false information about HM the King’s health.”
Like the other three suspects, she was arrested for violating Article 14 of the 2007 Computer Offence Act “covering the posting of false computerized information that causes harm to national security and the general public.”
It is stated that the police say that the “42-year-old doctor confessed to posting a message on an unidentified website after her arrest at the private Bangkok hospital where she worked…”. The police stated that they “are investigating whether she collaborated with others accused of spreading rumours about the king on Prachatai, a website that lists press freedom as one of its main objectives and is popular with some anti-government activists.”
Time Up Thailand reports that all four have been bailed.
Little was hear of the case until Prachatai published updates in late 2012. Many observers assumed that these cases were so silly that they had been quietly brushed under the carpet. Not so. The Criminal Court is said to be “likely to deliver its ruling by the end of this year on a case” involving Katha. Apparently there is another charge against him from April 2009. He is charged under the 2007 Computer-Related Crimes Act. He has been on bail since his arrest in 1 November 2009. He is expected to get a verdict on 19 December 2012. Thiranan’s case is reported to be pending a decision by the prosecution.
On 25 December 2012, Khatha was sentenced. He was given”four years imprisonment for posting online information sabotaging the monarchy and national security in 2009.” This sentence was reduced from a “six-year sentence … due to his confessions upon arrest and during the investigation. PPT has created a new page for him under Convictions.
Commentary on the cases:
Prachatai, 1 December 2012: “Updates on lèse majesté and computer crime cases“
Reporters Without Borders, 4 December 2009: “King asked to pardon Internet users prosecuted on lese majeste or national security charges”
Prachatai, 20 November 2009: “Online censorship and arrests of Internet users”
Asian Human Rights Commission, 20 November 2009: “THAILAND: Computer crime law as lese-majesty substitute”
The Nation, 19 November 2009
Reuters, 18 November 2009
The Nation, 18 November 2009: “Four suspect arrested”
Times Online, 2 November 2009: “Two charged over Thai king health rumours”
Bangkok Post, 2 November 2009: “Two arrested over fall in SET prices”
Bangkok Post, 2 November 2009: “Police to arrest more suspects over fall in SET prices”
Wall Street Journal, 1 November 2009: “Thai Police Arrest Two Accused of Violating Internet Laws”