Chiranuch Premchaiporn was first arrested when the offices of Prachatai were raided by the Crime Suppression police on 6 March 2009, on accusations of allowing webboard comments with lèse majesté content.
During the police raid, officers of the Crime Suppression Bureau accused Prachatai web manager Chiranuch of violating the computer law by posting comments threatening to national security and she was arrested. Police apparently used the Computer Crimes Law in this case to avoid international media attention regarding lèse majesté. However, later reports state that the police accused her of violating Article 15 of the Computer Act as well as disseminating lese majeste content on the website from 15 October to 3 November 2008.
During her trial, it was revealed that her accuser was well-known minor prince M.L. Panadda Disakul. The prince did not file a charge but prompted the police to deal with the Prachatai webmaster. Bail was granted. Chantana Banpasirichote, a political science lecturer from Chulalongkorn University, was her guarantor. Chiranuch was finger printed and a criminal record was filed. Police also copied data from her hard disk.
About 50 people, including students, Prachatai readers, Chiranuch’s relatives, social activists and academics gave her support at the police station.FACT (15 April 2009: “Nine new charges against Prachatai webmaster”) reported on new charges laid against Chiranuch under the Computer Crimes Act. According to the report, on “April 7, Chiranuch was called to Royal Thai Police headquarters for further investigation. She was accompanied by Prachatai director Chuwat Rerksirisuk and her two lawyers. Thai police laid nine new charges against Chiranuch resulting from the information she herself gave them after her arrest.” FACT continues: “Additional charges under the cybercrime law mean that Chiranuch is facing 50 years in prison for comments she did not create.”
The Crime Suppression Division did submit the charges against Chiranuch to the Office of Attorney-General. She was on bail while the OAG has been processing the case. Chiranuch was scheduled to hear whether she would be prosecuted on 26 June 2009. She showed up and it was further delayed. The case was delayed by the prosecutor several times. Prosecutors finally laid out a case on 31 March 2010 and Chiranuch was scheduled to appear in court on 31 May.
When she appeared, it was reported that “the Criminal Court has set February 2011 to begin proceedings against Prachatai editor Chiranuch Premchaiporn on charges of lese majeste under the Computer Crimes Act. Judge Chanathip Muanphawong yesterday set aside four sessions to hear the prosecution’s 14 witnesses and four sessions for 13 witnesses for the defence.”
In a remarkable turn of events, Chiranuch was detained at Suvarnibhumi Airport on 24 September 2010. Her arrest was based on a warrant said to be issued by the Khon Kaen provincial court. After her arrest, she was taken to Khon Kaen police station, 400+ kilometres northeast of Bangkok. Chiranuch was returning from the Internet at Liberty 2010 conference in Hungary when she was arrested. It seems that Chiranuch was arrested without a summons being issued (see this Prachatai report). Early on the morning of 25 September, she was granted bail after placing 200,000 baht in cash as a guarantee. She denied all charges and needs to return to the Khon Kaen Police Station on 24 October.
The allegations were made by Sunimit Jirasuk, a local businessman in Khon Kaen, who filed charges with police against Prachatai and Same Sky websites in April 2008 for readers’ comments posted on both websites about the case of Chotisak Onsung [also see here]. Various reports list three areas of allegation in this case: Section 116 of the criminal code, the Computer Crimes Act and lese majeste (see here and here).It is now said that Chiranuch potentially faces 82 years in jail!
In October 2010, the British Parliament received a motion on Chiranuch’s case. It stated: “That this House notes with concern the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the Director of Thai news website Prachatai, who is on trial in Thailand under its Computer Crime Act for not removing third party comments criticising the monarchy from her website quickly enough and who, if convicted, faces a maximum sentence of 50 years in jail; believes that this action threatens Thailand’s reputation for tolerance of free expression and risks creating a climate of fear; further notes with concern that this particular law has led to thousands of websites being blocked in Thailand; opposes web blocking and censorship; and calls on the government of Thailand to review the situation.”
Lisa Garner at Prachatai has produced a useful summary and timeline of international media advocacy group support for Chiranuch.
PPT highly recommends a factsheet available at Thai Netizens.
Chiranuch’s trial began on 4 February 2011. Details of the trial can be found in our posts: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12, Day 13, Day 14, Day 15.
The case was then delayed and began again in February 2012. A verdict was expected on 30 April 2012. However, on that date, the judge postponed the verdict for another month.
There are numerous aspects of the trial that are worrying and which again show Thailand’s judiciary to be remarkably unprofessional and essentially uninterested in the constitutional and legal rights of defendants. Examples of this include the change of judges mid-trial, beginning of Day 13 without the prosecution being in court and the need for the defendant and her lawyers having “to negotiate for the right to give testimony.” The judge appeared unwilling to hear evidence related to international practice and seemed hostile to the defense and rejected seemingly legitimate questions. Repeatedly, the judge appears disinterested in defense witnesses and tries to get them finished, giving the impression of being prejudiced. On the last day of trial, the judge simply dismissed the idea of even hearing testimony and insisted on taking background documents. There is no guarantee that the judge will even read these.
PPT has long known that, in cases related to the monarchy, judges are prejudiced against defendants and generally uninterested in their constitutional and legal rights. In fact, judges in such cases have been shown to take unconstitutional and illegal actions and to ignore evidence. Chiranuch’s case seems little different.
In this case, on 30 May 2012, Chiranuch was found guilty and slapped with an 8 month suspended sentence, reduced from 12 months, and US$630 fine.
PPT knows some will consider this something of a victory, not least because the “court called the accusation that she did not delete the comments fast enough ‘unfair’…”. Some will see the sentence as light. However, despite a weak case against her and huge international and domestic support for her, Chiranuch was still found guilty.
Her “guilt” was apparently “based on the fact that some comments were not removed for a further 9-10 days. Judge Kampol Rungrat said Chiranuch “did not perform her duty in a timely manner [and] allowed the inappropriate posting to be on the website for too long.” The content of those posts has never been revealed.
The decision will be precedent-setting as webmasters are now clearly considered legally responsible for comments on their site. Chiranuch herself noted that the verdict “will further encourage self-censorship among online publishers in the country.” When a law is hopeless it can be thrown out and the courts can show it to be a problem. In Thailand, this law is the Siamese twin of the lese majeste law, and is in place to repress and limit freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, in another case, being processed in Khon Kaen, saw Chiranuch back in court on 25 March 2011. She was required to travel to the northeastern city to extend her bail as the police had not completed the investigation of her case. This would have meant regular trips to Khon Kaen to meet the conditions of her bail. However,the judge dismissed the police request that her detention be extended (meaning the need to be bailed). The judge’s decision relieves her of the requirement to report to police each 14 days. The police may request a reconsideration of this decision.
In early October 2012, Chiranuch decided to appeal her conviction under the Computer Crimes Act. Her appeal was rejected on 8 November 2013, with the judge using royalist elite-speak:
Given that the defendant was 41 years old at the time, she had graduated from journalism school and she had worked in the media industry, she should have been aware that internet forums can be abused by criminals who use it to defame the monarchy, the judge said, adding that as a Thai citizen, the defendant has a duty to protect the monarchy.
The judge further maintained that the monarchy is “related to national security.”
Protecting wealth, privilege and power at the most minute level is critical for the survival of the nation or at least the ruling class that clusters around the palace.
Media commentary on Chiranuch’s case:
Prachatai, 8 November 2013: “Court of Appeal finds Prachatai Director guilty in lèse majesté-related case“
The Malay Mail, 8 November 2013: “Thai webmaster loses appeal over royal slur conviction”
Prachatai, 6 October 2012: “Chiranuch appeals against guilty verdict”
ประชาไท, 5 October 2012: “ยื่นอุทธรณ์คดี ผอ.ประชาไท ผิด พ.ร.บ.คอมพิวเตอร์”
The Next Web, 30 May 2012: “Thailand hands webmaster suspended sentence in landmark royal defamation case”
AP, 30 April 2012: “Verdict delayed for Thai media site’s webmaster”
CBS, 29 April 2012: “Thai court set to give verdict on webmaster”
Deutsche Welle, 27 April 2012: “Journalist accused of insulting Thai royal family sets precedent”
Bangkok Post, 17 February 2012: “Court sets date to decide webmaster Chiranuch’s fate”
Bangkok Post, 14 February 2012: “LM defendant to see final hearings this week”
Huffington Post, 31 October 2011: “This Can Get Mark Zuckerberg Arrested”
Journalism.com.uk, 25 October 2011: “IWMF honours four women for courageous journalism”
Financial Times, 14 September 2011: “Website chief faces Thai lèse majesté case”
Bangkok Post, 10 September 2011: “Chiang Mai’s governor made complaint against Prachatai”
The Nation, 10 September 2011: “Witness insists prachatai.com director guilty”
Bangkok Post, 3 September 2011: “Judge tells Prachatai editor to prove she policed her webboard”
The Nation, 2 September 2011: “Chiranuch’s motives to be weighed”
Mediashift, 1 September 2011: “Online Comments Run Afoul of Thailand’s Laws Shielding Royalty from Criticism”
Bangkok Post, 1 September 2011: “Prachathai lese majeste trial begins”
Prachatai, 25 March 2011: “Chiranuch freed as Khon Kaen court dismisses police request for further detention”
Prachatai, 25 March 2011: “Chiranuch expects bail extension in Khon Kaen this afternoon”
Prachatai, 12 February 2011: “Trial of Chiranuch postponed to September and October”
The Independent, 11 February 2011: “Thai reporter faces jail for insult to king”
TIME, 8 February 2011: “Thailand: Webmaster Case Tests Limits of Free Speech”
The Irrawaddy, 7 February 2011: “Trial of Thai Website for Lese Majeste to Resume”
BBC News, 4 February 2011: “Thailand Prachatai website editor Premchaiporn on trial”
CPJ Blog, 4 February 2011: “Internet freedom on trial in Thailand”
The Inquirer, 4 February 2011: “Thai webmaster faces 20 years for violating Internet laws”
The Economist, 3 February 2011: “When more is less. The increasing use of lèse-majesté laws serves no one”
Ashoka International, 1 February 2011: “Prachatai’s Day in Court”
Mediashift, 10 December 2010: “Online Freedom of Expression Under Siege in Thailand”
AFP, 23 November 2010: “Thai web editor may face 70 years in jail”
New York Times, 1 November 2010: “Fighting for Press Freedom in Thailand”
Electronic Frontier Foundation, 7 October 2010: “Interview with Chiranuch Premchaiporn of Thai Netizen Network”
เครือข่ายพลเมืองเน็ต/Thai Netizen Network, 2 October 2010: “Analysis on Chiranuch latest charges and arrest”
Bangkok Post, 2 October 2010: “Prachatai defies attempts to silence its message”
Reporters Without Borders, 1 October 2010: “Website editor facing possible combined sentence of 82 years in prison”
The Nation, 30 September 2010: “Facing charges two years later in another province”
Bangkok Post, 26 September 2010: “Political website director released on bail”
Reporters Without Borders, 25 September 2010: “Prachatai editor released on bail”
Prachatai, 25 September 2010: “Chiranuch gets bail”
Bangkok Post, 1 June 2010: “Scholar set free after colleagues file protest”
Southeast Asian Press Alliance, 31 May 2010: “Thailand girds for landmark case that could damage free expression online”
Prachatai, 29 May 2010: “Prachatai website editor due to appear before Bangkok criminal court next week”
Prachatai, 2 April 2010: “Thai webmaster charged for violating Computer-Related Crime Act”
Bangkok Post, 31 March 2010: “Prachatai webmaster granted bail”
Prachatai, 2 June 2009: “Update on Suwicha and Chiranuch cases”
Thai Netizen Network, 26 May 2009: “On the Cases Related to Computer-Related Crime Act” and in ไทย, เครือข่ายพลเมืองเน็ต, 26 พ.ค. 2553, “เรื่อง การดำเนินคดี พ.ร.บ. คอมพิวเตอร์ฯ ต่อพลเมืองเน็ต”
The Nation, 13 March 2009: “Computer crime law arrests creating a climate of fear”
IPS, 8 March 2009: “Police Target Websites Unflattering to Royalty”
Awzar Thi, Rule of Lords, 7 March 2009: “Free Jiew! Support Prachatai!”
Asia Sentinel, 7 March 2009: “Thailand’s Royalists Strike Again”
Bangkok Post, 7 March 2009: “Prachatai’s webmaster held by CSD: Lese majeste prompts police raid on offices”
Global Voices Online, 7 March 2009: “Thailand: Web director arrested for allowing offensive comments”
Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission, 6 March 2009: “THAILAND: AHRC strongly condemns police raid on news outlet”
BBC News, 6 March 2009: “Police arrest Thai website editor”
Reports from Prachatai, 6 March 2009: “Prachatai founder Jon Ungpakorn: police charges vague” and “Prachatai Director gets bail” and others at the home page.