The Bangkok Post (the original story is deleted and now here) reports yet another conviction on the draconian lese majeste-like computer crimes charge. This conviction is significant for the way in which it makes a rumor a case of “national security.” For a Thai/ภาษาไทย version of this verdict, see here.
On 14 October 2009 there were a series of rumors circulated that the aged king, ensconced in a hospital, was seriously ill or had died. In fact, the king had been in hospital since 19 September 2009 and almost every report since 23 September 2009 had stated that he is recovering or that his “condition has improved significantly.” The reports from the Royal Household Bureau on royal health are almost never more than propaganda, so rumors are easily created and circulated.
This particular death rumor caused a sell-off on the stock exchange. Immediately, the then Abhisit Vejjajiva-led coalition government, already engaged in a lese majeste witrch hunt against political opponents, began a search for those responsible for the rumors.
On 1 November 2009, it was reported that two suspected rumor mongers had been arrested. Both were initially held under the Computer Crimes Act. One of those arrested was Khatha Pachachirayapong (คทา ปาจริยพงษ์), then an employee in the trading a securities trading firm KT Zmico Securities. He was eventually charged on the health rumor case and another was added, related to an earlier message, in April 2009.
The Criminal Court on Tuesday sentenced Khatha. 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.
Khatha “crime” related to “two messages posted in Samesky aka Fahdiewgan webpage on April 22 and Oct 31, 2009.” He was convicted under the Computer Crime Act’s article 14 (2).
The court revealed that the April 2009 post “referred to Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn as if she sided with the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD)…”. Again demonstrating that the courts are a fount of royalist ideology, the court concluded that such a claim was impossible: “it was not true as the monarchy was above politics and loved all sides to no exclusive satisfaction.” Any sensible person knows that this is a nonsense.
PPT assumes that the Computer Crimes Act was used in this case in order to expand the reach of the courts to Sirindhorn as she is not covered by the lese majeste law.
The court concluded that the October post “made people believe the King, who was then hospitalised, might have passed away.” It seems that this rumor, partly due to the Royal Household Bureau’s own opacity, somehow either sabotaged the monarchy or was a threat to national security. Somehow the royalist court believes that the the royalist propaganda state is so fragile that 30,214 “hits” at a web board can shake it to its tender core or even bring it down.
As is usual in such cases, the court dismissed all evidence that might have assisted Khatha. He is now seeking to appeal and has applied for bail.
This is yet one more case that shows the political nature of lese majeste charges. This one also demonstrates the presumed weakness of the monarchy such that it is unable to withstand even a rumor. The improbability of this is Thailand is awash with rumors about the monarchy. Of course, a rumor about a constitutional monarchy should never be considered a matter of “national security.”
Update 1: The Bangkok Post removed the original and more detailed story on this conviction. The revised story is here.
Update 2: At Prachatai, more details of the verdict are provided, together with the news that Khatha has been granted bail for an appeal. The details are significant so we cut-and-paste most of the story here:
According to the court verdict, the defendant’s first comment posted on 22 April 2009 led the general public to understand that HM the King favoured the yellow shirts and Princess Sirindhorn also did the same, and the other post on 14 October 2010, which concerned rumours about the King’s health, led the general public to understand that HM was seriously ill. The comments were false, damaging national security and causing panic among the public, the court said.
During the trial, Aree Jiworarak, an official from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, testified that the defendant used an alias ‘wet dream’ on the webboard, and had an e-mail account email@example.com. The official checked this e-mail with banks and found that the defendant had used it to open bank accounts. The National Intelligence Agency acquired his IP address through its investigation, and Aree did a recheck by sending an e-mail to this e-mail account and acquired the same IP address when the defendant clicked on a link in the e-mail. After checking with CS Loxinfo, an internet service provider, Aree found that the IP address belonged to a company which the defendant worked for.
According to an IT expert who testified as a prosecution witness, the hard disk which the defendant used with his computer at work was found to have the word www.sameskybooks.org over 29,000 times and the user name ‘wet dream’ over 240 times.
Pol Lt Col Phiraphat Siriworachaikun testified that the defendant was informed of the charges and his rights during the arrest in the presence of several reporters, and the defendant confessed that he had used the e-mail account to register at the webboard and used the alias.
As several documents seized from the boot of the defendant’s car had content similar to what had been posted on the webboard, the court was convinced that the defendant held the same view and posted accordingly.
In response to the first post about HM the King favouring the yellow shirts, the court argued that it was not true, as ‘HM the King and all members of the royal family love the people equally and are above political conflict. HM the King and Princess Sirindhorn are politically neutral. The posting of such a comment will result in ever more serious political conflicts, likely to affect state security and public peace.’
As for the post about rumours about the King’s health, the court said that HM the King was the centre of the spirit of people of all groups, as evident in the recent 5 December event when a lot of people came out to wish HM well, so it could not be denied that public panic would not happen [as a result of the comment].
It is remarkable how the courts simply co-opt royalist propaganda and make a “legal” case of it.