Khatha Pachachirayapong (คทา ปาจริยพงษ์)

112Khatha Pachachirayapong (คทา ปาจริยพงษ์) was convicted on 25 December 2012 and sentenced to 4 years jail for lese majeste-like offenses under the Computer Crimes Act.

His case goes back to 14 October 2009 when there were a series of rumors that the king was seriously ill or had died. This caused a 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 were then 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 then 37 year-old Mr. Khatha Pachachirayapong, an employee in the trading a securities trading firm. He worked at KT Zmico Securities.

Reuters reported 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 reported 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.

On 3 November 2009 police arrested the third suspect. 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 challenged 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.” On 18 November 2009 Dr. Thatsaporn Rattanawongsa became the fourth suspect to be arrested.

At the time, Time Up Thailand reports that all four have been bailed.

Little was heard 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.

The Criminal Court sentenced Khatha on 25 December 2012. 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)…”. At Prachatai, more details of the verdict are provided. 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 stamp816@hotmail.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.

PPT assumes that one of the reasons 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.”

Prachatai reports that the Appeal Court on 5 March 2014 “found Katha guilty on two counts under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, Article 14 (2) and 14 (3) which state that whoever 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 and whoever import to a computer system of any computer data related with an offence against the Kingdom’s security under the Criminal Code, respectively.”

Prachatai also reports that in “July 2012, Katha submitted a petition to the Constitutional court to rule whether the Computer-Related Crime Act 2550, Article 14 (2) is an unclear law that provides an opportunity for officials to use an unlimited power of discretion. The Constitutional court ruled in Sept 2012 that Article 14 (2) of the Computer-Related Crime Act aims to protect national security and public order. This is consistent with the rule of law and assigns legal responsibility to individuals in a manner that is right and just to all parties.”

Commentary on Katha’s case:

Prcahatai, 5 March 2014: “Appeal Court sentences former stockbroker to 2 years and 8 months in jail for posting rumors on king’s health

Radio Australia, 26 December 2012: “Thai court jails ex-trader over royal health web rumours”

Wall Street Journal, 26 December 2012: “Thai Man Jailed for His Monarchy Comments”

Prachatai, 26 December 2012: “Former stock broker gets 4 years for posting two webboard comments in 2009”

Bangkok Post, 25 December 2012: “Jail for anti-monarchy comments” – The Bangkok Post removed the original and more detailed story on this conviction. The revised story is here.

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”

NNT, 3 November 2009: Third stock rumor makers nabbed”

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”

9 responses

26 12 2012
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Censorship and fear on lese majeste « Political Prisoners of Thailand

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