The Trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, Day 1

4 02 2011

Prachatai has just posted a Thai-language report of the first day of the trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, which is being held at the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok (If you are in Bangkok and able to observe, here are details on how to do so.

The report notes that today, the court heard from the first prosecution witness:  Mr. Ari Chuwarak,  the Director of the Office of Corporate Information and Technology, Office of the Deputy ICT Minister.  PPT was glad to hear that there were over 40 supporters and observers of the case – so large that the judge had to move the trial to a bigger room.

In addition, for PPT readers who understand German, the Heinrich Boll Foundation has started a blog on her case.

Meanwhile, over at FACT, C.J. Hinke has a long report on the day. We post in full, with highlighting by PPT:

Thai webmaster facing 50 years for lèse majesté postings

The trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, nicknamed Jiew, opened on Friday at Bangkok’s Criminal Court, the venue changed to Courtroom 701. A larger courtroom was needed due to an unprecedented number of observers from numerous Thai and foreign NGOs, local and international media, and foreign embassies.

Chiranuch is a founding signer to Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) and an activist with Thai Netizen Network.

The public prosecutor opened Thai government’s case against Chiranuch, webmaster of Thailand’s only independent news portal, Prachatai.com.

Chiranuch has been charged with ten violations of the country’s draconian and unconstitutional Computer Crimes Act which was the first law to be passed by Thailand’s military coup legislature in 2007. Each charge carries a sentence of five years in prison. However, Thailand’s Constitution carries specific protections for free expression which cannot be amended by any lesser law.

However, Chiranuch has not been charged for making such comments herself. Rather, she faces prison stemming from pseudonymous postings and comments to Prachatai’s public webboard in mid-2008, although she was not arrested until March 2009.

Chiranuch has been charged because it is alleged she failed to delete the lèse majesté comments quickly enough from Prachatai, allowing them to remain eleven days in total.

The morning session opened with the first prosecution witness, Aree Jivorarak, chief of Thailand’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology’s IT Regulation Bureau. The chief judge, the prosecutor and the witness all spoke in subdued tones without amplification as the content of the postings were read aloud by the witness, nearly inaudible in the public gallery.

Repetition of lèse majesté by anyone is, of course, also lèse majesté and often courts are cleared of the public in such trials. In this case, we were not able to hear them anyway.

The witness seemed frequently confused by the questions posed by the prosecution who seemed on many occasions to lead or direct the MICT censor in his replies.

Thailand’s chief censor smiled and waved to Chiranuch in the dock whom he acknowledged he had consulted frequently and noted that she had always been cooperative and receptive in removing such comments from the Prachatai webboard. Aree also acknowledged that, during the period which is the subject of this trial, MICT had not informed the webmaster about the offending comments.

These charges also resulted in the closure of Prachatai’s public web forum in July 2010. Prachatai was the only forum where netizens could express an opinion on issues of the day. Now we have none.

The judges were all quite young and Chiranuch’s supporters had hope that they might have some Internet experience. However, questions from the bench were required of Aree as to the working definitions of URL, IP address, DNS and ISP. The youth of the judges and a single public prosecutor belied the serious weight Thai government gives to this case.

The afternoon session was given over to the defence bar, a team of three experienced human rights advocates. Even the judges laughed aloud when trial observers broke into spontaneous applause when the sound system was turned on so we could finally hear the proceedings.

Defence cross-examination elicited some surprising testimony from the government’s witness. The ICT ministry, for example, seemed unaware that Prachatai is governed by the directors of a foundation consisting of numerous prominent academics.

When questions were posed about who in government exactly decides content is illegal and what criteria are used to judge such content as lèse majesté, the witness became increasingly vague. Aree stated such decisions were made in committee from various ministries and the Royal Thai Police. However, he was unable not only to name the committee members or their specific agencies but was unsure of the agencies represented themselves.

Thailand’s chief censor also exhibited confusion over what content was considered ‘inappropriate’ and which content was clearly illegal by precise legal definition. Aree stated that there was little oversight over MICT’s censors who would know lèse majesté when they saw it!

There were numerous direct questions posed to the bureaucrat regarding the exact context of lèse majesté. Aree failed to reply to several of these defence questions and sat mute, with no direction the court to answer.

The MICT censor chief also questioned the intentions of the public participants in Prachatai’s web forum. Aree said he also found many of Prachatai’s news articles to be ‘inappropriate’ and solely intended to criticise Thai government.

The witness also relied overwhelmingly on presumption as all ten comments alleged to be defaming the monarchy were cast in indirect terms. He stated that any reader would know that reference to “the blue whale” would know the code for Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, whose Royal colour is blue. That any Thai would know “the blind father” referred to His Majesty King Bhumibol who is sight impaired from youth.

However, when Aree was shown ten pages of comments from Prachatai’s webboard and asked by the defence to mark those he considered lèse majesté, he marked only three items which were not disclosed by the court.

MICT’s bureaucrat also acknowledged that the ministry had tracked the posters of the pseudonymous comments to Prachatai by IP address but only one of them had been charged. This may well be the netizen acquitted last week.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva met with members of the Thai Netizen Network in December 2009 and stated the Computer Crimes Act would never be used to suppress citizen media or free public expression.

He has commented publicly at least three times on the Prachatai case, stating the arrest of Chiranuch was the ‘most regrettable’ of his tenure, promising to look into the case and, finally expressing surprise the case against Chiranuch had not been dropped.

The government has had more than two years to drop these spurious charges. The prime minister lies. Under his administration, Thailand has chosen to make the Internet its enemy. We are the Internet generation and Thailand is making war on its people.

Thailand’s iLaw Foundation found in December 2010 that 185 people had been charged under the Computer Crimes Act in a four year period. Thai government is systematically using this law to arrest Thai netizens. Academic Dr. David Streckfuss estimates any lèse majesté charge carries a 98% conviction rate which has resulted in sentences up to 18 years. He estimates 172 such arrests in 2009 alone.

Furthermore, Thailand has blocked 425,296 web pages during the period of martial law April 7 to December 22, 2010 by emergency decree. Prachatai was among the first websites blocked. Not one of those websites has been unblocked since the expiration of emergency powers. iLaw estimates that this number is rising by approximately 690 new blocks per day.

The government plans to call 14 witnesses as does the defence. It is highly unlikely Chiranuch’s trial will be completed in the eight days allotted by the court.

Chiranuch’s case is a landmark for the climate of free expression in Thailand. What is decided by this court will determine whether we live in a democracy governed by human rights and civil liberties or whether we are governed by a military junta at their whim.

For further background see “Overview of Chiranuch’s free speech trial” at http://facthai.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/overview-of-chiranuch’s-free-speech-trial-thai-netizen/.

Unfortunately, Chiranuch’s trial was not the only lèse majesté case starting trial in Bangkok’s Criminal Court today. NorPhorChorUSA webmaster Tantawut Taweewarodomkul, nicknamed Kenny, was also facing lèse majesté charges under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act as well as similar Criminal Code charges.

Kenny has been held without bail since April 2010. NorPhorChor is an acronym for the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, commonly known as the Red shirts. The atmosphere in Courtroom 906 was far more serious.

If reason does not prevail in Thailand, we have no hope for freedom in our future.

The trials resume Tuesday, February 8, at Bangkok’s Criminal Court (San Aya), On Ratchadapisek Road opposite Soi 38, Lat Phrao MTR station. Chiranuch’s trial is in Courtroom 701 on February 8-10 and 11-17 and probably longer. Tantawut’s trial will continue in Courtroom 906.

WE URGE ALL READERS TO SPEND AT LEAST ONE MORNING OR AFTERNOON SESSION TO SUPPORT JIEW AND KENNY AND TO STAND UP FOR FREE SPEECH.





FACT on The Devil’s Discus

21 01 2011

Regular readers of the Freedom Against Censorship Thailand blog would be aware of C.J. Hinke’s passion for the Rayne Kruger book on the death of King Ananda Mahidol, The Devil’s Discus. Much discussed and apparently still banned in Thailand, it is a classic account of regicide (also an account by a British pathologist). FACT now has an exclusive interview with Prudence Leith, Kruger’s widow, including an extract from her forthcoming book. Worth a read.





Silenced by the fear of persecution

21 01 2011

Wikileaks has enlisted C. J. Hinke of Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT). The Nation’s Pravit Rojanaphruk recently interviewed him. Worth reading the whole interview. Here are some choice cuts:

I believe most, if not all, governments have been lying to their citizens for a long time. Keeping secrets and keeping lies are not the same thing. Taxpayers fund their government’s actions.

C.J. Hinke (from The Nation)

On Wikileaks cables about Thailand, coup and monarchy:

Interestingly, most of the media thought this was news, that it was the public’s right to know and tried to publish it. For instance, the Bangkok Post carried the leaks briefly and, perhaps surprisingly, so did ASTV-Manager Daily. The cables are unquestionably real news, but we have been taught to expect a self-censored press in Thailand. All media, including citizen media, have been silenced by the fear of persecution.

On FACT being blocked in Thailand:

FACT was blocked from May 9, 2010, and when the emergency decree was lifted, it changed nothing. FACT is still blocked, along with well over 425,296 websites as of December 22, increasing at a rate of 690 per day.

When the state of emergency was lifted, the government had the duty to return the Internet to the rule of law. We should have gone back to an uncensored Web on December 22, until the government submitted its lists of websites for assessment by the courts as required under the Computer Act. The Thai government is blocking hundreds of thousands of pages completely illegally.

More cables on Thailand to be released?

Cablegate includes between 2,985 and 3,516 documents from the US Embassy in Bangkok and there are far more explosive revelations, particularly regarding human rights. While it is obvious that the publication of some would make one criminally liable, there has never been a challenge about whether linking to such material is illegal. FACT continues to link.

 





FACT push the censorship envelope

31 10 2010

C.J. Hinke at Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) is pushing the censorship envelope, with an interview with Emilio Esteban, the man allegedly behind Thailand’s 7-month blocking of YouTube and at least two lese majeste arrests – he was one of those connected to both Nat Sattayapornpisut and Suwicha Thakor.

Read the interview as it is sure to be blocked. Esteban has several outlets including this and this. Readers in Thailand should be very careful if linking to these sites.

Esteban claims to oppose lese majeste. Frankly, much of the material posted by Esteban is juvenile but, at the same time, is remarkably challenging to the monarchy.





Reviewing Streckfuss

10 10 2010

C.J. Hinke at FACT reviews the new book by David Streckfuss, Truth On Trial In Thailand: Defamation, treason and lèse majesté. Given that the book is controversial, the review is worth reading.

This paragraph caught our attention: “Numbers, of course, speak louder than words. 765 persons were prosecuted for lèse majesté ‘between 2006 and 2009—an average of almost 191 per year—a spectacular increase over the immediate previous decade when there was an average of just five new cases per year’.”

Lese majeste remains critical – central, in fact – for maintaining the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime as the protector of the monarchy, its wealth and its political dominance.





C.J. Hinke on lese majeste

21 09 2009

Rehabilitation and the politics of prison

Anyone who has read anything about Thai prisons will readily acknowledge that their purpose is political. After visiting inmates at Bang Kwang, providing food and books and DVDs to prisoners I never met before, I am convinced that all prisoners are political prisoners.

Prisons serve only to warehouse citizens, not only in Thailand but in most countries. For the period of imprisonment, those particular prisoners cannot commit their crime again and serve as a social reminder to others who have no wish to join them.

I quote Winston Churchill: “Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular. This is really the test of civilization.” Ah, Winnie, you old Commie!

So let’s not talk about Khun Darunee “realising her mistakes and correcting them”; that’s not the way prison sentences work–there’s nor “Sorry” or “Get out of gaol free” cards. It’s 18 years inside if a prisoner is not paroled following two-thirds of their sentence.

Darunee has every legal and human right to apply for a Royal pardon and I have every confidence she would receive one. However, her political views on the monarchy may preclude her application on principle. If she will not apply to Nai Luang on humanitarian principles, this should not prevent her release on humanitarian grounds. Should Thais be exempt from practicing simple Buddhist humanity towards others?

Similarly, it is doubtful Ajarn Ji will ever be allowed to return to Thailand a free man, even under successive changes of government.

Are these people so dangerous to our society? Or is Thailand afraid that some grain of truth they express may strike a resonant chord in other citizens who will then become convinced against the monarchy and foment a Republican revolution? Thailand as Republican domino?!?

If any reader thinks this is even a remote possibility, you must live in a different Thailand than mine!

Ji’s exile and Darunee’s 18 years belie any pretence of free expression in our beloved Thailand.





Valuable documents site

7 09 2009

Thanks to a post by C.J. Hinke at New Mandala, we located the site Schoenes-Thailand, which is mainly in German, but also includes a great set of documents, in various languages, available for download. It includes pictures from the Devil’s Discuss and a Thai translation of this book. And much more. We are sure PPT readers will be interested.

We have also updated PPT’s historical documents and commentary pages.