Censorship and fear on lese majeste

26 12 2012

Yesterday PPT posted on the sentencing of Khatha Pachachirayapong (คทา ปาจริยพงษ์) on 25 December 2012 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 Bangkok stock exchange.

Our source was a quite detailed report at the Bangkok Post. If readers look for that story now, it is gone. This is the message the Post gives when one clicks on the link or searches for the story by title:

Post search

The new and revised Bangkok Post story is here. PPT thought readers might like to compare the two versions of the story to see how fear of lese majeste and/or editorial censorship operates. The new story is reproduced below, and we add back in the bits of the more detailed original story in red and strikeout other bits added in the later story. Thanks to a reader for finding the original story again:

The Criminal Court has on Tuesday sentenced Katha Pajariyapong a former stockbroker to four years in jail imprisonment for posting information online that damaged sabotaging the monarchy and national security in 2009.

Katha Pajariyapong, aged 39, was arrested on Nov 4, 2009, for in connection with two messages posted in Samesky aka Fahdiewgan webpage on April 22 and Oct 31, 2009. online in April and October of that year.

The Criminal Court at Ratchada said a six-year sentence for two criminal counts was reduced by one-third to four years due to his confessions upon arrest and during the investigation.

The April messages, the court said, referred to Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn as if she sided with the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), but it was not true as the monarchy was above politics and loved all sides to no exclusive satisfaction. contained untrue information about HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

The October messages, the verdict read, said a stock nose-dive might be due to the “blind going to heaven”. The court said the content made people believe the King, who was then hospitalised, might have passed away. referred to negative information about the monarchy which caused panic in the stockmarket and sent stocks nosediving.

The Information and Communications Technology Ministry (ICT) and the National Intelligence Agency checked with CS Loxinfo about the owner of the account which was used to post the defamation and untrue information that caused public panic and found it belong to finance company KT Seamico where Katha was working as a marketing broker.

The authorities found the company computer that Katha used had nearly 30,000 hits on the Samesky website and 214 hits using the username “Webgreen” for posting comments on the Samesky webboard.

The court rebutted the defence argument that a fake ICT posting to check the reply of the commentator on the Samesky web page was not convincing.

The court noted that defence witness Jitpat Fakcharoenpol, an IT expert, had already confirmed that a commentator had to register an email with a unique password so that when the ICT posted a message and Webgreen replied, the person replying should be the person who appeared in Katha’s computer at his office.

Another defence witness, Sarinee Archvanantakul, also conceded that bad news would drive down stock prices, so the October 2009 postings therefore were damaging to national security.

The defendant himself also failed to show explicitly that he was not involved in the postings.

A company record showing he was engaged in training on the day of the posting had no signature before or after the training, so Katha might not have been occupied the entire day as he claimed, the court said.

The court also noted that it was the duty of the defence to get the Samesky website operators to testify before the court, not the prosecutor, if the defendant thinks that the webboard operator could defend him.Bangkok Post

The Criminal Court at Ratchadaphisek Road ruled Mr Katha violated the Computer Crime Act for introducing to a computer system information that is false or may compromise national security.

The court sentenced Mr Katha to six years’ imprisonment for the two counts but reduced the sentence to four years due to his confession upon arrest and during the investigation.

The Information and Communications Technology Ministry and National Intelligence Agency traced the account that was used to post the defamatory messages back to the brokerage firm which employed Mr Katha.

The authorities also checked the browsing history of the company computer that Mr Katha used and found he had posted to the websites from there.

The court said the defendant failed to prove explicitly that he was not involved in the postings.

Although Mr Katha claimed he was attending a training session on one of the days the messages were posted, the company’s records did not show him signing in or out of the session.

Mr Katha was found guilty under the Computer Crime Act, Section 14 (2). He is now seeking to appeal and has applied for bail has applied for bail and will appeal against the ruling.

Four other people were arrested separately in connection with the stock index dive. Only two cases were in court Tuesday.

It seems the bits left out are significant both in their original form and even more so now that they are deleted.

More details of the verdict are available at Prachatai, where there is additional information regarding Sirindhorn and the king (the latter missing at the Post, in both versions of the story).

With a major update: Royalist courts make another conviction for the monarchy

25 12 2012

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 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.

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