AHRC and RWB on computer crimes as lese majeste

20 11 2009

Also available as กรรมาธิการสิทธิเอเชีย และผู้สื่อข่าวไร้พรมแดน: ทำผิดทางคอมพิวเตอร์ คือทำผิดฐานหมิ่นฯ

On 20 November 2009, the Asian Human Rights Commission released a timely statement on the use of the Computer Crimes Act as a substitute for the lese majeste law and Reporters Without Borders released a report the day before criticizing the use of this and other laws that are meant to control and limit expression: “Harassment and intimidation are constantly employed to dissuade Internet users from freely expressing their views.”

Read the report on RWB at Prachatai, where some extra and useful links are included.

As PPT readers may have noticed, at our pages on Pending Cases and About Us, we also recognized this substitution. Some months ago we began including those charged with “national security” offenses under the Computer Crimes Act along with lese majeste cases.

AHRC mention five cases: the royals health rumors scapegoats Thatsaporn Rattanawongsa (arrested just a couple of days ago), Thiranan Vipuchanun, Khatha Pachachirayapong and Somjet Itthiworakul (arrested earlier in November), Prachatai’s webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn, charged back in March, and Suwicha Thakor, arrested in January, convicted in April and sentenced to 20 years jail, reduced to 10 after he finally agreed to plead guilty. RWB list others, including Nat Sattayapornpisut, arrested in October.

AHRC makes some excellent points, noting that negative publicity “over the cases against persons critical of its royal family, or persons claiming to act on the royals’ behalf” has caused the Democrat Party-led government to change tack and downplay lese majeste while using other means to repress and censor. It is added that the Justice Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga remarkably claimed that “Offences against the King, the Queen, the Heir-Apparent or the Regent are considered offences relating to the security of the Kingdom, not ‘lese-majesty’… I am certain that each state as well as Thailand has its own way of interpreting what constitutes offences relating to national security. Therefore, whoever violates the law of the Kingdom will be fairly charged and prosecuted according to the law of the Kingdom.”

As AHRC points out, the Computer Crimes Act “is an excellent substitute” for a repressive government that wants to appear to international community as one that favors the “rule of law.” As is clear, they use this law to harass, intimidate and to lock up those who oppose the national ideology.

AHRC notes that the Computer Crimes Act “was passed in the final hours of the military-appointed proxy legislature following the 2006 coup, and … was designed as a tool to suppress dissent, not responsibly deal with Internet crime in Thailand. Its ambiguous provisions, notably the section under which all these persons have been charged, allow for the prosecution of any type of thought crime on the disingenuous pretext that the crime is one of technology rather than one of expression or of ideas. Therefore, the state can claim that it is bringing people to court for one type of crime, while sending a clear message to a society that the real offence is altogether different.”

Fourth royal health rumor suspect arrested

18 11 2009

The Democrat Party-led government continues to pursue cases that would seem bizarre in most parts of the world and which damages the government and the country’s credibility, even when they are busy squabbling with Cambodia and waging “war” against Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Nation (18 November 2009: “Four suspect arrested”) gets its spelling wrong but does report on the arrest of a fourth suspect in the spreading-inauspicious-rumors-about-the-king’s-health case. It says that “Police on Wednesday arrested a 42-year-old female doctor…”.

Dr. Thatsaporn Rattanawongsa was arrested when police “raided Thon Buri Hospital and arrested Dr Thatsaporn as she was waiting to start her shift in the hospital.” They then searched “her residence in Sapan Kwai area to search for more evidence.” The police allege that she “joined three other suspects who were arrested earlier in spreading the false information about HM the King’s health.”

Like the other three suspects, she will be charged with “violating Article 14 of the 2007 Computer Offence Act covering the posting of false computerised information that causes harm to national security and the general public.They could face up to five years in prison if convicted.”

PPT assumes that the aim of this witch hunt continues to be to pin something negative related to the monarchy on the red shirts and/or Thaksin.

Update 1: Reuters (18 November 2009) now carries a report without naming the arrested woman. It is stated that the police say that the “42-year-old doctor confessed to posting a message on an unidentified website after her arrest at the private Bangkok hospital where she worked…”. Police continue to question her and “are looking at her appointments on her laptop for more evidence….”.

The police state that they “are investigating whether she collaborated with others accused of spreading rumours about the king on Prachatai, a website that lists press freedom as one of its main objectives and is popular with some anti-government activists.”

Interesting to see Prachatai specified when the line before says “unidentified website.” The political nature of the case continues to be emphasized.

Reuters also mentions the fact that the king remains in hospital for 2 months, with repeated statements that he is improving. As the report points out, “Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told Reuters on Nov. 7 that the king had recovered from his illness and would soon be discharged from hospital.” PPT suspects that as this was an auspicious rumor that Abhisit won’t be investigated.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post has a report here.

Update 3: The Nation (19 November 2009) reports that she has been bailed. Also includes a police statement that Thassaporn “admitted posting the inaccurate information about His Majesty’s health but she said did it without any harm intention.”

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