Warped world royalism and lese majeste

3 02 2013

Following our links to the comments by ZenJournalist in a recent post, PPT also wants to link to a report of a discussion of lese majeste at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, reported in the Bangkok Post. It is worth noting that the FCCT has a record of putting lese majeste on its agenda. This time they had  Sukunya Prueksakasemsuk who has been vigorous in campaigning for her husband, Somyos, academic David Streckfuss, and Chiranuch Premchaiporn, a victim of the lese majeste-like computer crimes law. They also had the dreadful and dull royalist Tul Sitthisomwong. We will highlight just a couple of parts of the report.

Chiranuch noted that while the Somyos case had some similarities with her own in that both “were charged over material written by someone else,” Somyos was kept in prison and “presented at court in heavy shackles, transported hundreds of kilometres to various provinces for hearings headed by several different judges and allowed only limited access to family and lawyers. Chiranuch was allowed bail and had unhindered access to lawyers and family.” Chiranuch added that this treatment amounted to an “attempt to dehumanise Somyot.”

The defense of lese majeste and all things royalist came from Tul, a self-appointed defender of the monarchy and its political system. His story is “that it was inappropriate to look at the lese majeste issue from the perspective of human rights and free expression.” He sees lese majeste as a law that protects “national security,” by which he means that “red shirt stage rhetoric had become so inflammatory that it was clear they desired a new state no longer defined as a constitutional monarchy.” Tul’s view is that “Somyot had been a prominent voice of that movement…” and states that Somyos needed to be locked up to protect monarchy and the system it underpins: “Somyot’s case, he argued should be seen as a necessary action to protect the state and its institutions against a movement intent on undoing them.”

Remarkably, Tul expresses what other ultra-royalists often feel when he insists that the lese majeste law is “as vital to Thai society as prohibitions against murder or drug trafficking. Like those laws, lese majeste cases serve to remind the public about what acceptable behaviour is in society.” He adds that to “repeal Article 112 would be tantamount to pulling out the foundations of Thai society.”

In Tul’s warped world, the fact that  there was an escalation of lese majeste charges following the 2006 military coup and when military-backed governments were in place “was proof of a movement to undermine the Thai state and its institutions…”. This warped logic is not uncommon amongst the yellow shirt brigade of ultra-royalists. Thankfully, Streckfuss pointed out that the rise in cases “was due to a political and military will to preserve the status quo.”

And, we’d add, don’t forget the crusty lot in the palace. Their fears meant that they demanded action that, like Tul, they saw as threatening “their” system and its economic and political privileges.

 





Chiranuch appeals

6 10 2012

Many readers will have already seen that Chiranuch Premchaiporn, Director of Prachatai, has appealed against the court verdict which found her guilty under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act. Back in May, she was found guilty and was sentenced to one year in prison with a fine of 30,000 baht.  The court reduced the penalties by a third and suspended the jail sentence for a year.

In her appeal, Chiranuch challenges that Computer Crimes Act and the conduct of the prosecution’s case against her, arguing that “standard practices” under the Thai law are out of line with international practice and “take into account any impact on the rights and freedoms of the people, as well as the costs and practicality of website administration, and technological limitations…”.

Chiranuch “says that in a criminal trial the prosecution has the burden to clearly prove the defendant guilty as charged, but in her case it never produced any evidence to support its claim of a standard practice for web service providers, and did not prove that her practice failed to follow such a standard.  The decision of the Court of First Instance was not in line with the principle of hearing evidence in a criminal trial, and the prosecution did not prove her intention in committing the offences.”





Further updated: Rich peoples’ “justice”

4 09 2012

PPT has to mention briefly the New York Times report on the hit-and-run case involving the Red Bull heir Vorayuth Yoovidhya, the late Chaleo Yoovidhya’s grandson. He is alleged to have driven a Ferrari over a policeman and his motorcycle, driven on, dragging the policeman and leaving him dead, before charging home.

Of course, Vorayuth is from a fabulously wealthy family and has a story of the death being the victim’s fault.

Initially, the local police “attempted to cover up the heir’s involvement by arresting a bogus suspect…”. That was re-thought when the media lit up, and Vorayuth now “faces charges of causing death by reckless driving but was released on 500,000 baht ($15,900) bail.”

Of course, this is just another case of rich people’s “justice.” Just a few days ago, the teenager daughter of a general and with a privileged name (Devahastin Na Ayudhya) and powerful relatives who, as an unlicensed driver, had driven her car into a minivan, killing nine people in 2010, got a suspended sentence. Yep, responsible for the deaths of nine citizens and got no jail time. The rich kid has never apologized but faces huge compensation claims, which her family will now proceed to “negotiate” down.

Wouldn’t lese majeste victims, not accused of killing anyone, just love to have bail. Any bail. Few of them ever get off or have a suspended sentence (Chiranuch Premchaiporn being an exception). These rich kids who kill people get leniency, support and cover-ups while those who dare to speak of the monarchy tend to get locked up for years.

Double standards abound in a Thailand where the rich can get away with murder.

Updates: We changed the reference to daughter of a general as we have been unable to re-confirm this. And, for those interested in comparisons, a red shirt leader, Jeng Dokchik, has had his request for a renewal of bail rejected. His crime is to have been politically charged as a “terrorist” and then is said to have said nasty things about untouchable judges. It seems it is less a crime to actually kill people while driving, if you are a son or daughter of the elite.





Freedom of expression (still) under attack

12 06 2012

A written statement submitted by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a non-governmental organisation with general consultative status

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 11, 2012
ALRC-CWS-20-06-2012

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Twentieth session, Agenda Item 3, Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression

THAILAND: Freedom of expression under attack

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) wishes to bring the crisis of freedom of expression in Thailand to the attention of the Human Rights Council. This statement is the third on this topic that the ALRC has submitted to the Council since May 2011. During the seventeenth session of the Council in May 2011, the ALRC highlighted the rise in the legal and unofficial use of section 112 of the Criminal Code and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA) to constrict freedom of expression and intimidate citizens critical of the monarchy (A/HRC/17/NGO/27). In February 2012, the ALRC detailed some of the threats faced both by those who have expressed critical views of the monarchy, both legal and extralegal, as well as those who have expressed concern about these threats (A/HRC/19/NGO/55).

The ALRC is again raising the freedom of expression to stress the persistence of the threat present, foreground the intensification of the dangers to human rights in Thailand broadly, and to acknowledge the continued courageous actions by citizens to revise or revoke section 112 and the CCA, despite these threats and dangers. As the ALRC has continually stressed, within the context of the political crisis that began with the 19 September 2006 coup and greatly increased with the violence of April-May 2010, the protection of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, is essential if there is to be the possibility of successful democratization and widespread access to justice in Thailand.

Section 112 criminalizes criticism of the monarchy and mandates that, “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” Statistics provided by the Office of the Judiciary indicate a sharp rise in lese-majesty charges filed since the 19 September 2006 coup, with 33 charges filed in 2005, 30 filed in 2006, 126 filed in 2007, 77 filed in 2008, 164 filed in 2009, and an extraordinary 478 charges filed in 2010. While statistics released for the first five months of 2011 indicate a reduction in the number of charges filed, information for the second half of 2011 and 2012 to date has not been made available publicly. The failure of the Government of Thailand to provide information itself raises many unanswered questions about the use of the law to diminish space for freedom of expression through the use of secrecy and generating of uncertainty.

Court judgments in cases of individuals charged and prosecuted under a combination of section 112 and the CCA are similarly resistant to scrutiny and ready comprehension. Section 14 of the CCA notes that anyone can be jailed for five years if found to have imported to a computer “false computer data in a manner that it is likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic… any computer data related with an offence against the Kingdom’s security under the Criminal Code.” As section 112 also is classed as a crime related to national security, it can be powerfully combined with the CCA to punish dissent, or perceived dissent, carried out via electronic means. Two recent cases, of Mr. Amphon Tangnoppakul and Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, illustrate the dangers to freedom of expression posed by categorizing criticism of the monarchy as a crime against national security and the lacunae in the CCA, which makes it a ready vehicle for enhancing these dangers.

On 8 May 2012, Mr. Amphon Tangnoppakul, a 61-year-old man, was found dead in prison custody. At the time of his death, Amphon was serving a 20-year sentence received upon being convicted of four violations under section 112 and the CCA on 23 November 2011. Amphon was convicted for allegedly sending four SMS messages defaming the Thai queen and insulting the honor of the monarchy. In this submission, we concentrate on the legal ambiguities and lacunae in the case that go to the criminalizing of free speech through the use of section 112 and the CCA in Thailand:

a. Similar to other court decisions in cases of alleged violations under section 112 and the CCA, the judges in this case had to infer the meaning of the four SMS messages in question (which was imprecise), the alleged intention of the defendant, and speculate on any potential damage caused to the monarchy and national security. At best, the court’s interpretation could be described as legally inexact. At worst, it can be described as complete fiction.

b. The court’s logic in finding the four SMS messages in question criminal rested on an argument about the validity of the information contained within them and on what this might cause readers of the messages to believe. More specifically, the judgment reads that the messages were

“… the import to a computer system of false computer data, that was defamatory, insulting, and threating to the king, queen, heir-apparent, and regent. would cause those who saw it to believe that the content of the messages was the truth, which would damage the nation’s security. As a result, some of the aforementioned actions of the defendant are likely to damage the honor and reputation of the king, queen, heir-apparent, and regent and to cause them to be insulted and despised. With an intention to cause the people to dishonor, fail to venerate, and threaten the king, queen, heir-apparent, and regent.”

Throughout the decision the adjective “likely” is used; in other words, damage was not caused by the SMS messages, but was probable in the opinion of the court. The ruling was not one that found the defendant guilty beyond doubt, but rested on a highly uncertain balance of probability.

c. In addition, to interpret under the CCA the sending of a rude SMS message as “the import to a computer system of false computer data” is to stretch the category of “false computer data” beyond the already broad ambit provided by the law. Several pages later in the court decision, “false” is elaborated in political, rather than scientific or legal terms. The judges write that the four SMS messages in question

“… are entirely false because the truth reflected for the people around the country is the king and the queen are full of compassion. They are concerned for every person in the land and perform their royal duties for the benefit and happiness of the Thai citizenry.”

While this may be the judges’ opinion of the monarchy, to categorize it as truth is an ideological stance inappropriate for an ostensibly independent judiciary to take, and does not constitute any form of grounds for conviction under law. Further, given the increased frequency with which section 112 is being enforced, this statement is difficult to appeal against, either in law or in public debate, without also risking being charged under the law.

d. Finally, even if the accused in this case had committed the offences as alleged, the 20-year sentence raises significant concerns about the proportionality of punishment for crimes of defamation in Thailand and speaks manifestly to an imbalance in the law of Thailand as written and as currently enforced between protecting the sovereign and protecting the human rights of people residing in the country.

On 30 May 2012, Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, a 44-year-old human rights defender and webmaster of Prachatai, an independent online news site, was found guilty of one count out of ten alleged charges of violating the CCA. The charges against her in this case stemmed from her alleged failure to remove comments deemed offensive to the monarchy from the Prachatai webboard quickly enough. The prosecution alleged that this indicated her support of and consent to the comments, which constituted a violation under the CCA. She was sentenced to one year in prison and a 30,000 baht fine, which was reduced to a suspended sentence of eight months and a 20,000 baht fine.

a. In the decision, the judges responded with an assessment of the appropriate length of time. The decision notes that in nine of the ten comments in question, they were removed within one to eleven days, and that this indicates that Chiranuch did not intentionally support or consent to them. In the instance of the tenth comment, which remained online for twenty days before she removed it, however, the court concluded that this duration indicated “implied consent.”

b. Of particular concern to the ALRC was a statement in the ruling that while apparently endorsing freedom of expression in fact does precisely the opposite by imposing on the public the obligation to self-censor or be subject to criminal actions:

“The court acknowledges that freedom of expression is a basic right of citizens that is guaranteed and protected in every Thai Constitution. This is because freedom of thought and expression reflects good governance and the democratization of a given entity or nation. Criticism from the people, both positive and negative, provides an opportunity to improve the nation, given entity, and individuals for the better. But when the defendant opened a channel for the expression of opinions within a computer system, she was the service provider and it was within her control. The defendant had a duty to review the opinions and information that may have impacted the country’s security as well as the liberty of others which deserves similar respect. the defendant cannot cite freedom of expression in order to be released from liability.”

This statement, far from being an endorsement of free expression, is a direct attempt of the Court to disavow the right to freedom of expression found both in the Constitution of Thailand and in the ICCPR. The role of the Court and the judiciary in a broad sense should be to aid the development of justice and the rule of law, not aid in its dismemberment.

The ALRC is concerned that the cases of both Amphon Tangnoppakul and Chiranuch Premchaiporn are both indicative of how the judiciary in Thailand is marshaling spare evidence to convict persons of offences under political laws, and in so doing, of its role in eroding institutions and structures that are supposed to guarantee human rights and protect freedom of expression.

The ALRC also wishes to draw the Council’s attention to the courage of human rights activists, media advocates, and citizens in Thailand who continue to call for reform of section 112 despite the growing legal and extrajudicial threats they face. Under the 2007 Constitution, if at least 10,000 citizens sign in support of a proposed amendment to law, then it must be examined by the parliament. On 28 May 2012, the Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Section 112, a coalition of human rights and media activists, writers, artists, and citizens, presented 26,968 signatures in support of an amendment to section 112 limiting its use and reducing the punishment for violations. It is essential that in the coming months, the 26,968 citizens who signed in support of the draft amendment do not experience harassment or other repercussions for doing so.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre expresses solidarity with those persons in Thailand working to have laws aimed at narrowing the freedom of expression revoked or amended, and calls upon the Human Rights Council and also Special Procedures of the Commissioner for Human Rights to contribute to their efforts by urging the Government of Thailand to make the necessary changes to protect this fundamental human right. In this regard, the ALRC calls on the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to continue to monitor the situation on the ground in Thailand and to request the government to make an official visit to the country at the nearest possible opportunity to meet with concerned persons and produce a report with recommendations to the Government of Thailand for legal and institutional changes to the same end.





FACT on Chiranuch verdict

2 06 2012

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand makes some interesting points regarding the computer crimes conviction against Prachatai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn. PPT won’t repeat it here, save to identify this point:

Judge Kampol’s ‘lenient’ decision was neither compromise nor capitulation reflecting the reality of the Internet as a tool for freedom of expression. The fact that Chiranuch did not win an outright acquittal is a barely-veiled threat against the rest of us.

The threat is not veiled at all; it is clear. “Protect the monarchy” or risk legal sanction!





AHRC questions Chiranuch verdict

31 05 2012

The Asian Human Rights Commission has issued a long and detailed appeal and statement on the sentencing of  Chiranuch Premchaiporn yesterday. It is complicated and worth studying in full. It begins:

On 30 May 2012, the Criminal Court read its verdict in the case in Black Case No. 1667/2553, in which Chiranuch Premchaiporn was charged with ten alleged violations of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA). Chiranuch is the 44-year-old webmaster of Prachatai, an independent online news site, which has served as an important platform for critical news, discussion, and debate for over seven years in Thailand. The charges against her in this case stemmed from her alleged failure to remove comments deemed offensive to the monarchy from the Prachatai webboard quickly enough. The Court found Chiranuch guilty for one out of the ten charges, and she was sentenced to one year in prison and a 30,000 baht fine. Resulting from her cooperation with the Court and the fact that this was her first offence, this was immediately reduced to a suspended sentence of eight months and a 20,000 baht fine.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) welcomes the news that Chiranuch will remain outside prison and be able to continue her and Prachatai’s ground-breaking work expanding and sustaining the space for freedom of expression in Thailand. Yet we are gravely dismayed at the broader threat to freedom of expression and human rights represented by the return of a guilty verdict in this case.

AHRC calls on the Thai government to “explain this decision, and the logic supplied for it, with its obligations under Article 19 of the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights].”





Initial media reports on Chiranuch verdict

30 05 2012

The following are some of the media reports that were available within the first few hours of the guilty verdict for Chiranuch Premchaiporn:

Thai Webmaster Gets Suspended Sentence in Free Speech Case, TIME‎

New call for reform of Thai lese majeste law, AFP

Thai webmaster guilty of royal slur, jail suspended, AFP

Jail suspended for Thai webmaster under royal law, NDTV

Google and Rights Groups Condemn Thai Court’s Conviction of a Webmaster, New York Times

Webmaster gets suspended sentence in Thai royal insult case, Reuters

Thai webmaster guilty, jail suspended under royal slur law, FRANCE 24

Thai web editor escapes jail over ‘royal insults’, CNN

Thai Webmaster Gets Suspended Jail Term Over Royal Insults, Bloomberg

Thai webmaster gets suspended sentence in royal insult case, Malaysia Star

Suspended term for Thai web editor over royal insult, BBC News

Thai Court Convicts Web Editor in Free Speech Case, Voice of America

Thai webmaster gets suspended jail term, Thai News Agency

Thai Webmaster Gets Suspended Jail Term for Royal Insult, IBTimes.co.uk

Thai webmaster guilty, jail suspended, MSN NZ News ‎

Thai web editor gets suspended sentence for failure to delete comments posted …, Asian Correspondent

Thai Website Editor Convicted, Freed, Asia Sentinel





Updated: Chiranuch guilty, gets suspended sentence

30 05 2012

Jon Russell, the Asia Editor of The Next Web, reports that Prachatai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn has been found guilty of infringing the Computer Crimes Act. She has been given a suspended sentence and a small fine.

The landmark case over the management of the deletion of 10 comments from the Prachatai web board that were considered by police to have defamed the royal family saw Chiranuch given an 8 month suspended sentence, reduced from 12 months, and US$630 fine. The offenses were from 2009.

PPT is sure that 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. PPT’s point would be that, despite a weak case against her and huge international and domestic support for her, Chiranuch has still been found guilty.

Her “guilt” is 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.





Chiranuch back in court

29 05 2012

The Asian Human Rights Commission draws attention to the 30 May appearance by Chiranuch Premchaiporn in the Criminal Courtfor sentencing. We reproduce the AHRC information in full and urge those who are able to attend the court:

Dear friends,

On 30 May 2012, at 10 am in the Criminal Court in Bangkok, the verdict in the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, charged with ten counts of allegedly violating the 2007 Computer Crimes Act in Black Case No. 1667/2553, will be read. The reading, which had been scheduled for one month ago, was unexpectedly postponed. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges all concerned persons to attend the court as observers, and calls on other interested persons to follow the case closely.

UPDATED INFORMATION:

The formal proceedings against Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the 44-year-old webmaster Prachatai, an independent online news site, began on 3 March 2009, when the Criminal Court issued a warrant for her arrest. On 5 March 2009, a warrant to search the Prachatai office was issued and the next day police from the Crime Suppression Division raided the office and arrested Chiranuch in response to one complaint of her alleged violation of the vaguely worded, anti-democratic Computer Crimes Act (CCA), which an unelected legislature operating under a military-appointed government passed in 2007. The police released Chiranuch later that evening, but the next month nine further complaints were brought against her. On 31 March 2010, the Office of the Attorney General proceeded with the prosecution and she was arrested and held at the Criminal Court before again being released on bail.

Reading the above account, we might infer that Chiranuch had published some highly inflammatory, dangerous or secret material on the Prachatai site that warranted the heavy involvement of specialist police and state prosecutors and a series of events involving a raid and detention. In fact, her crime was to have not done something: to have failed to remove 10 comments alleged to be injurious to the monarchy from the Prachatai webboard quickly enough. Her alleged crime, to underscore the point, was that she removed the comments, which consisted of allusions rather than direct references to the royal family, with insufficient rapidity.

Examination of the specific provisions of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act under which these bizarre allegations were brought does not help us to clarify the thinking of those responsible for the prosecution of Chiranuch Premchaiporn. Under section 14 of the CCA, anyone can be jailed for five years if found to have imported to a computer “false computer data in a manner that it is likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic… [or] any computer data related with an offence against the Kingdom’s security under the Criminal Code”. Under its section 15, the service provider found to have consented to the use of the computer for this purpose is equally liable as the person committing the offence, which in the case of Chiranuch is the crime of lese majesty, as stipulated in section 112 of the Criminal Code, that, “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished (with) imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The broad, vague provisions of the CCA, and the imprecise way in which it can be linked with equally vague provisions of the Criminal Code dealing with national security, post clear and direct threats to the rights of citizens in Thailand. The very basis of the allegations against Chiranuch Premchaiporn — that not removing comments deemed to defame, insult, or threaten the monarchy, itself an allegation that is unclear, is a threat to national security — threatens to make a mockery of the Court and the meaning of justice in Thailand.

The trial hearings occurred in February and September 2011, and February 2012, and summaries by Freedom Against Censorship-Thailand are available on the campaign webpage that the AHRC has set up for Chiranuch. As these show, much of the testimony turned on the interpretation of how the comments that she removed tardily, in the opinion of the police and prosecutor, constitute criminal content in the meaning of the law. Whether or not a written comment on a webpage or link to an image or video is “likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic” is necessarily fraught with difficulty, even more so as the Computer Crimes Act does not specify what might constitute a likelihood to damage the country’s security or create a public panic, or even define “security” or “public panic”. What any of these terms mean, it seems, comes down to the opinion of the judge in the individual case. No standards exist to which we can refer. What is clear, however, are the effects of this legislation and the absence of clear standards contained. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, a long-standing human rights defender and media activist, has been forced to endure three years of harassment and fear by the Thai state security and legal apparatus. In addition, during a critical period in Thailand’s modern history, the Prachatai webboard, a crucial site of discussion and debate, was forced to shut down, for fear that both users and more of its staff members could face additional prosecution.

The hearings in Chiranuch’s case ended in February 2012 and the reading of the verdict was set for 30 April 2012. However, 20 minutes before the proceedings were to begin, court staff notified Chiranuch and her lawyers that the decision would be delayed for an additional month. The rather dubious reason given by the court for the delay was that the judges had too many documents to read, and was unable to complete preparing the verdict in time for the scheduled date. In a previous statement released at the time of the postponement (AHRC-STM-099-2012), the AHRC noted that both the delay to this case and the explanation for the delay were sources of serious concern. Whether caused by the court’s inefficiency, overwork of the judges, or a more specious strategy to subject Chiranuch Premchaiporn to additional harassment and suffering.

On the eve of the re-scheduled reading of the verdict in this case, the Asian Human Rights Commission calls on the Criminal Court to ensure that no further delays are caused in the reading of this verdict, and that the trial be conducted openly, honestly and justly. In particular, given the unclarities and lacunae in the Computer Crimes Act, the onus is on the judges to act in the service of justice.

The AHRC urges all those persons and organisations concerned with human rights and freedom of expression in Thailand to return to the Criminal Court on 30 May 2012 for the re-scheduled reading of the decision to observe action in either the service of justice, or to witness its foreclosure.





AHRC on Chiranuch

8 05 2012

Many of PPT’s readers will have seen the statement of concern by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the case concerning Chiranuch Premchaiporn. Even so, it is worth reiterating it here, in full:

On 30 April 2012, the Criminal Court in Bangkok was scheduled to read its verdict in Black Case No. 1667/2553 on ten alleged violations of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act. The defendant is Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the 44-year-old webmaster of Prachatai, an independent online news site. Suddenly, instead of reading the decision, 20 minutes before the proceedings were to begin court staff notified Chiranuch and her lawyers that the decision would be delayed for an additional month. The rather dubious reason given by the court for the delay was that the judges had too many documents to read, and could not complete preparing the verdict in time for the scheduled date.

Both the delay to this case and the explanation for the delay are sources of serious concern to the Asian Human Rights Commission. The judges gave the date for reading the verdict in mid-February 2012, on the last day of hearings. At that time, they knew the case and the amount of evidence that they had to review. If they required a longer time to reach their findings, they ought to have set the date later. That they did not casts doubt on their excuse for not delivering the verdict on the appointed date, as does the manner in which the notification was delivered to the defendant. Had the judges really known that they could not prepare the verdict in time, the court need not have waited until minutes before the scheduled reading date to postpone the ruling; it could have notified the defendant’s lawyers the week before that the hearing would have to be postponed. That they notified the defendant at the last minute constitutes a form of psychological torture, since Chiranuch was already on her way to court and had readied a bag of items to take with her to prison in the event of a conviction. Now she faces another month of waiting, of not knowing her future.

From the beginning, the case brought against Chiranuch has made a mockery of the notion of justice, and so too the institutions in Thailand responsible for it. In this sense the delay constitutes only the latest in a series of state-endorsed abuses of the defendant’s rights. In particular, this case represents an instance of the clear abrogation of the state’s responsibilities under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party.

The formal proceedings against Chiranuch began on 3 March 2009, when the Criminal Court issued a warrant for the defendant’s arrest. On March 5, a warrant to search the Prachatai office was issued and the next day police from the Crime Suppression Division raided the office and arrested Chiranuch in response to one complaint of her alleged violation of the vaguely worded, anti-democratic Computer Crimes Act, which an unelected legislature operating under a military-appointed government passed in 2007. The police released Chiranuch later that evening, but the next month nine further complaints were brought against her. On 31 March 2010, the Office of the Attorney General proceeded with the prosecution and she was arrested and held at the Criminal Court before again being released on bail.

Reading the above account, we might infer that Chiranuch had published some highly inflammatory, dangerous or secret material on the Prachatai site that warranted the heavy involvement of specialist police and state prosecutors. In fact, her crime was to have not done something: to have failed to remove 10 comments alleged to be injurious to the monarchy from the Prachatai webboard quickly enough. Her alleged crime, to underscore the point, was that she removed the comments, which consisted of allusions rather than direct references to the royal family, with insufficient rapidity.

Examination of the specific provisions of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act under which these bizarre allegations were brought does not help us to clarify the thinking of those responsible for the prosecution of Chiranuch Premchaiporn. However, it does raise a series of questions about the dubious qualities of this law and the dangers it poses to the rights of citizens. Under its section 14, anyone can be jailed for five years if found to have imported to a computer “false computer data in a manner that it is likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic… [or] any computer data related with an  offence against the Kingdom’s security under the Criminal Code”. Under its section 15, the service provider found to have consented to the use of the computer for this purpose is equally liable as the person committing the offence, which in the case of Chiranuch is the crime of lese majesty, as stipulated in section 112 of the Criminal Code, that, “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished (with) imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”

The trial hearings occurred in February and September 2011, and February 2012, and summaries by Freedom Against Censorship-Thailand are available on the campaign webpage that the AHRC has set up for Chiranuch. As these show, much of the testimony turned on the interpretation of how the comments that she removed tardily, in the opinion of the police and prosecutor, constitute criminal content in the meaning of the law. Whether or not a written comment on a webpage or link to an image or video is “likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic” is necessarily fraught with difficulty, even more so as the Computer Crimes Act does not specify what might constitute a likelihood to damage the country’s security or create a public panic, or even define “security” or “public panic”. What any of these terms mean, it seems, comes down to the opinion of the judge in the individual case. No standards exist to which we can refer.

The hearings also turned on the question of whether in providing the webboard for public comment the defendant had consented to the posting of all and any comments on that site, making her criminally liable for them. As she removed the offending comments once aware of them, it seems patently obvious that she did not consent to anyone posting anything on the site, and yet the prosecution argument rests on the implicit reasoning that whosoever provides an online chatroom or space for discussion about any topic consents to the posting of any content on any matter. This absurd proposition could only be entertained in the context of draconian legislation of the sort being used against Chiranuch, with the intention of preventing the free expression of opinion about issues that really matter to people in Thailand during a critical period in the country’s modern history. Indeed, the charges did have the effect of forcing Prachatai to shut down its webboard, for fear that both users and more of its staff members could face additional prosecution.

In responding to criticism about the case, the government of Thailand has characteristically shown either an inability to grasp elementary values of human rights, or a wilful disregard for those values. It has also underplayed, either intentionally or unknowingly, the potential consequences of this case. For instance, in a statement submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council on 19 May 2011, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, the sister organization of the AHRC, set out the facts of Chiranuch Premchaiporn’s case and commented that it illustrated “the over-use and manipulation of the law to intimidate citizens and silence speech critical of the monarchy and ruling government regime”. The ALRC highlighted the response of the government of Thailand to the concern expressed in September 2010 by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mrs. Margaret Sekkaggya, regarding the case against Chiranuch. The government maintained that both the 2007 Computer Crimes Act and section 112 of the Criminal Code are not in conflict with either the 2007 Constitution or the ICCPR. Instead it replied that:

“Thailand, as an open society, upholds the people’s right to freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by the Constitution. The exercise of such rights, however, must bear in mind considerations regarding national stability and social harmony. Views that are disrespectful of the monarchy, or advocate hatred or hostile feelings toward this important national institution, or those which incite hatred or violence are generally unacceptable in the Thai society.”

Article 19 of the ICCPR allows for restrictions on freedom of expression when necessity is clearly present: that officials deem a view “unacceptable” does not discharge the burden of necessity in this case, and nor does it justify the prosecution of persons for the expressing of such views. Indeed, some of the most atrocious acts in modern human history have been justified through recourse to notions of “national stability and social harmony”. To account for the prosecution of Chiranuch Premchaiporn in these terms indicates how very far removed the state in Thailand really is from the international human rights framework that it claims to respect.

In view of the above facts, the Asian Human Rights Commission calls on the Criminal Court to ensure that no further delays are caused in the reading of this verdict, and that the trial be conducted openly, honestly and justly. A special effort must be made by the court in this case to ensure that indeed justice is done. The AHRC also wishes to point out to the court that delaying tactics will not cause human rights defenders around the world to lose interest in the case, but only heighten the amount of attention that it receives, since the use of such tactics raises the level of doubt about the manner in which the trial has been conducted and the prospects of the accused for a fair outcome. Last of all, and in this regard, the AHRC urges all those persons and organisations concerned with human rights and freedom of expression in Thailand to return to the Criminal Court on 30 May 2012 for the re-scheduled reading of the decision.