Lese majeste updates

1 12 2012

Prachatai has published some useful updates on a series of lese majeste cases. PPT will summarize here and will 112.jpgupdate our specific pages on each case as well:

  1. In its first story, Prachatai refers to the truly bizarre case of two of the Royal Health Rumor 4. Back in October 2009 there were rumors that the king was seriously ill or had died. This caused a huge sell-off on the stock exchange, and the ridiculous Abhisit Vejjajiva-led coalition government began a witch hunt for those responsible for the rumors. Many observers considered the whole case so silly that it 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 Pajajiriyapong, then an employee in the trading a securities trading firm KT Zmico Securities (the firm sacked him). Katha is said to have posted comments on Same Sky or Fah Diew Kan web board. Apparently there is another charge against him from April 2009. He is charged under the 2007 Computer-Related Crimes Act. He has been on bail since his arrest in 1 November 2009. He is expected to get a verdict on 19 December 2012.
  2. Also one of the Royal Health Rumor 4, Thiranan Vipuchanun, a former director of a finance and securities trading firm, is “accused of posting on the Prachatai webboard her translation of a Bloomberg news article which reported the slump of the Thai stock market on 14 Aug 2009 due to the widespread rumours about the King’s health. Her case is now pending a decision by the prosecution.”
  3. Somyos Prueksakasemsuk is also scheduled to re-appear in court on 19 December 2012, and it seems that he may get a verdict then, having been held in prison since 30 April 2011 on lese majeste charges.
  4. Akechai Hongkangwarn who was arrested on 11 March 2011 and charged under Article 112 – lese majeste – for being in possession of illegal VCDs of an Australian television documentary that presented an accurate picture of the state of the Thai monarchy and 10 Wikileaks documents. He is expected to appear in court on 22 February 2013.
  5. One of the Bangkok 19 who were accused by the Army and its boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Yoswaris Chuklom or Jeng Dokchik, “a comedian turned red-shirt activist and politician, will appear in court for witness hearings on 11-12 Dec [2012]. He is being prosecuted for alleged lèse majesté comments in his public speech during a red-shirt rally at Phan Fa on 29 March 2010.”
  6. In the first week of November 2010, Sqn Ldr Chanin Khlaikhlung became the first casualty of then Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan’s warning that the military needed to weed out anti-monarchists in its ranks. This was also a part of the Abhisit regime’s royalist witch hunt. He will likely appear in a military court (closed to the public) in February 2013, facing lese majeste and computer crimes charges related to 24 comments on his Facebook page.
  7. Finally, Prachatai mentions a case PPT has not previously heard of when it lists Aswin (family name withheld) as likely to appear in Chiang Mai Court in February 2013 “to face accusations by an acquaintance of making lèse majesté remarks.”
  8. In its second story, Prachatai mentions another case previously unknown to PPT. The case goes back to the days of high alert on lese majeste by the royalist regime under Abhisit and refers to an unnamed Malay Muslim man whose case is outlined at the iLaw database. The Pattani resident is accused of “hanging banners with the picture of HM the Queen on a pedestrian bridge in the town” also allegedly “containing messages about violent incidents in the south and other parts of Thailand, together with a picture of HM the Queen, on 12 Aug 2009, the Queen’s birthday…”. It seems that this may be another case pursued by the military who are also accused of beating and torturing the man to get a confession on a crime he was not even aware of (standard military practice). He has been on bail. It seems this case has been kept secret.
  9. A third story refers to well-known Thammasat historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul who is said to be “pessimistic” and “both surprised and appalled by the decision of police to forward his lese majeste police complaint case to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).” He is due to appear before the prosecutor sometime this month.

The last story also refers to there being “currently at least seven people detained under the law with hundreds more in the process of possibly being charged or having received police complaints made against them.” PPT knows of eight currently detained, although we assume there are more we don’t know about. We are not aware that there are “hundreds more in the process of possibly being charged or having received police complaints made against them.” That said, there are two cases above we had never heard of before, suggesting that the case load and backlog that is inestimable. The opacity associated with this most political of charges lends itself to both under-reporting and exaggeration.

In late 2010, based on data related to charges laid, prosecuted and known conviction rates, we had guesstimated that there may have been some 350 jailed following lese majeste convictions or related computer crimes charges. We have no idea how many accusations there are or how many cases are winding there way through the system. In any serious judicial system, this law would be declared unconstitutional and scrapped. Until that happens, Thailand can never be a truly democratic country.

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.”

Health rumors a ruse for closing web sites

4 11 2009

Also available as หาเรื่องปิดเว็บไซต์จากข่าวลือเรื่องพระพลานามัย

It is ever clearer that the  Democrat Party-led government is using the royal death and/or health rumors saga as a means to control or close moderate web sites that it feels are not pro-government.

Led by a prime minister who once tried to make people believe he was a political liberal and by a party that should be ashamed to include the word “democrat” in its name, the government has now played its hand.

In Prachatai (4 November 2009: “ICT to close ISPs for allowing offending websites to continue”), the Thai Rath newspaper is cited on a story about the Minister of Information and Communications Technology Ranongruk Suwunchawee, who has now explained that the “Ministry of Information and Communication Technology has told Internet Service Providers to deal with offending websites, saying if they fail to do so, the Ministry will close them.”

Who does the minister mean? It seems that “MICT has contacted the ISPs which provide services to the websites [Prachatai and Fah Diew Kan] and informed them that if they still allow these websites which have had records of being ‘subversive to national security’ to continue, the Ministry will close down those ISPs.” PPT added the emphasis but the names in square brackets are in the Prachatai report.

The rest of the report shows how this crackdown is being manipulated. The Minister explained that it was found that Thiranan Vipuchanun had indeed only posted a translation to the Prachatai webboard. However, Khatha Pachachirayapong, “was found to have posted the ‘inauspicious’ content on many websites, and forwarded it to his stock-brokering friends, of whom at least two people had further forwarded the message.” Apparently the authorities are seeking to use the Computer Crimes Act against these people as well.

This approach to “getting” web sites considered anti-government (translated as “threats to national security”) is confirmed in a Bangkok Post story.

The government and the press is now using this term “inauspicious” to describe the rumors, as if claiming the king is dead is somehow a crime. If it wasn’t so serious and being used as repression, one might be tempted to laugh along with Not the Nation or with Monty Python.

The Abhisit Vejjajiva government is ever more repressive in the name of “national security.” Where does it stop? Where are the defenders of human rights? Why are they allowing the royalist government to get away with such blatant repression?

Prachatai on the witch hunt for health rumor scapegoats

3 11 2009

Prachatai (3 November 2009: “Translation posted after SET fell”) has an important post on the health rumor story – in which its Thai-language web board has been implicated. It includes a link to the original Bloomberg story that seems to have set things off and the bbb (Thiranan Vipuchanun) post to Prachatai’s web board. PPT won’t summarize the story here as it deserves reading in full.

PPT again points out that the search for scapegoats from 14 October is a red herring. We heard similar rumors soon after the king entered hospital, so even Bloomberg was behind the Thai-based rumor curve on this story.

Meanwhile, Bangkok Pundit asks an important question – how did the police get the details of  posts without going to the web board managers? It seems that the police now have the technical capacity or collaboration of others to allow them to monitor posts and emails. Based on that suspicion, PPT changed its advisory to readers a couple of weeks ago.

Update: Prachatai (3 November 2009: “Thai speech advocates question use of Computer Crimes Act vs two accused of stock manipulation”) has another post related to this story and reactions to the arrests.

Political crimes, rumors, repression

3 11 2009

Also available as อาชญากรรมทางการเมือง ข่าวลือ และการกดขี่

The story on the Democrat Party-led government’s attempt to further crackdown on political activity through the opportunity created by the king’s health rumors is developing remarkably rapidly.

Bangkok Pundit has an excellent summary of the development of the arrests and asks about government strategy that draws conclusions similar to those of  PPT.

Meanwhile, The Nation (3 November 2009: “Use of Computer Act questioned”) has a special report that sees the use of the Computer Crimes Act against the two bailed suspects as an attack on political web-posting.

It cites Sarinee Achavanuntakul, a “committee of Thai Netizen Network (TNN)” who “insisted she was commenting in her personal capacity, not on behalf of TNN,” who said that “[i]Invoking the law was unwarranted and violated the freedom of speech…”.

Referring to Fa Diaw Kan and Prachatai, where the allegedly offending posts were made by Khatha Pachachirayapong and Thiranan Vipuchanun , the Nation report states: “Both websites are renowned for its constantly critical content to the monarchy institution – especially after the coup. The Nation has learned that both suspects, especially Thiranan, had been active posters for some time before the October incident.”

Chiranuch Premchaiporn, “the webmaster of Prachataiwebboard.com, said ‘bbb’ [Thiranan] was the regular poster since the Sep 19 Coup and most of her posts were the translation of English news on Thai politics.” Chiranuch added that “the police had never contacted her to ask for any information about the case and she did not delete the post.”

Thanapol Eawsakul, the editor of Fa Diaw Kan” said he didn’t acknowledge anything about the post as the smeskyboard.org had been separated from the journal. He added, “This is nonsense. How could the police prove that the posts were false information anyway as it said that there was a rumor that . . . , not the fact was . . .”. He added, “The government needed to find a scapegoat for this rumor thing…”.

PPT thinks Thanapol is being too generous to the government. We think the government is taking the oppostunity to increase its media repression.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the webmaster of Prachataiwebboard.com, said “bbb” was the regular poster since the Sep 19 Coup and most of her posts were the translation of English news on Thai politics.

Also on October 17, “bbb” also had a post containing many translation pieces of news from various foreign press agencies related to the rumors of the King’s health.

Chiranuch said the police had never contacted her to ask for any information about the case and she did not delete the post. However, as Prachataiwebbaord.com was under maintenance, the exact page of the post and information about webboard users were inaccessible.

Thanapol Eawsakul, the editor of the “Under the Same Sky” journal said he didn’t acknowledge anything about the post as the smeskyboard.org had been separated from the journal.

“This is nonsense. How could the police prove that the posts were false information anyway as it said that there was a rumor that . . . , not the fact was . . .”

“The government needed to find a scapegoat for this rumor thing,” Thanapol said.

King’s death rumor cases, hunting more scapegoats and political repression

2 11 2009

Also available as อัพเดทเพิ่มเติม: คดีเกี่ยวกับข่าวลือการสิ้นพระชนม์ ไล่ล่าหาแพะและการบีบคั้นทางการเมือง

A Google search now produces more than 125 stories on these cases internationally. Most are derivative of the earlier stories mentioned in PPT’s first post. For PPT readers, the following are the more detailed and, in our view, more interesting of these reports:

Wall Street Journal (1 November 2009: “Thai Police Arrest Two Accused of Violating Internet Laws”) – makes the point that the accused “face  up to five years in prison and a $3,000 fine each if convicted.” The story also quotes the still acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn as previously saying that “the computer crimes law is designed to protect people from fraud and defamation as online commerce in the country develops”, but points out that the law is “also used at times to address what he describes as ‘national security’ concerns.”The WSJ also mentions Suwicha Thakor as a victim of this law, and might have mentioned the more recent case of Nat Sattayapornpisut.

In this case, PPT asks what the national security concern is or was. Is it talking of the king’s death? Is it causing the stock exchange to decline? No serious case could be made that either counts as a national security issue. The Abhisit Vejjajiva government should be condemned for its use of “national security” to prevent freedom of expression and to shore up its own rule.

The Times Online (2 November 2009: “Two charged over Thai king health rumours”) reports that Thiranan Vipuchanun has been released on 100,000 baht bail and makes the link between the sites the two accused posted to – Fa Diaw Kan and Prachatai – and recent politics as well as the succession issue.

The Times continues to state that the king “rarely makes direct interventions into politics.” PPT assumes that the author means highly public interventions, for the evidence is that the palace routinely intervenes in political issues from the judiciary, to appointments, legislation, to lese majeste and coups.

For unexplained reasons, there are no details PPT has been able to find regarding Khatha Pachachirayapong (but see below).

The BBC (2 November 2009: “Bid to ease Thai share volatility”) has a short story reporting that Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij is talking more to the “stock exchange to look at ways of managing volatility in the markets.” Is the pre-empting the fall that can now be predicted for when the king does pass away?

Update 1: The Bangkok Post (2 November 2009: “Police to arrest more suspects over fall in SET prices”) reports that both suspects have been bailed. It also reports that more scapegoats are being hunted. The Post report states that the reason for the arrests of the first two suspects was that it is “alleged the two accused spread false information about the health, possibly with the intention of manipulating the share market for profit.” If they did that, they seem to have been a bit slow.

More significantly, the police said that the “Information and Communication Technology Ministry will decide whether to close down the websites which carried the rumours.” So web sites and web boards are threatened, demonstrating the political intent of the government. PM Abhisit is reportedly on board for these and further witch hunts.

Meanwhile, The Nation (2 November 2009: “KT Zmico Securities distance itself from suspect”) reports that Khatha’s employer is trying to distance the company from the allegations.

Update 2: Confirming PPT’s suspicions noted above, and providing an excellent example of how this case is nothing more than a political witch hunt, view the Bangkok Post’s article (2 November 2009: “Two arrested over fall in SET prices”) where there is this statement (with no attempt to do anything other than make an accusation) that would be better suited to rags like The Nation or Manager/ASTV: “Both websites are known to present articles seen to be offensive to the monarchy.” The websites are Fa Diaw Kan and Prachatai.

This report also has a little more information on Khatha Pachachirayapong. Katha is said to have been “detained for questioning at the Hi-Tech Crime Division. He also has been charged with violating the computer act.  Police searched Mr Katha’s house and found evidence suggesting he had posted [the alleged] information at the http://www.sameskybooks.org website.”

PPT believes that the Abhisit government may well use this case to try to limit and even stop the work of these last bastions of more or less free expression in the mainstream. If successful, the odd thing about this clampdown is that it will leave a highly controlled media that is supportive of this government facing the still non-mainstream red shirt media.

Update 3: The Bangkok Post has a useful assessment of the charges in its editorial (3 November 2009: “Criminals or scapegoats?”). The statement: “The arrests are troubling on a number of grounds” says it all. The post states: “A vital and urgent question is whether Ms Thiranant and Mr Katha are scapegoats. On the evidence released by police, the two neither started nor profited from the rumour.” But then the Post editorial backtracks to more conservative attitudes: “If authorities expect to rebuild the confidence shattered by the October rumour-mongering, they will have to come up with the party or parties who started the ill-intentioned and criminal reports – not just simple messengers who passed them along.” The editor still wants a witch hunt. Why?

The Post also reports (3 November 2009: “Police plan to arrest one more suspect over rumours”) that the police are planning further arrests.

Arresting king’s death rumor scapegoats

1 11 2009

Also available as: อัพเดทเพิ่มเติม: แพะถูกจับกรณีข่าวลือเรื่องกษัตริย์สิ้นพระชนม์

The Nation has a breaking report on the arrest of two persons related to the death rumors about the king. However, the report has confused names and seems to list the wrong company. PPT will wait for a more reliable report before posting further on this.

Update 1: We have now had a chance to look around some more on this story, and a a few more stories are available. Bangkok Pundit has posted a summary of some. Matichon reports the arrested persons as 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 (อดีตกรรมการผู้จัดการบริษัทหลักทรัพย์แห่งหนึ่ง – Bangkok Pundit says it was UBS) and 37 year-old Mr. Khatha Pachachirayapong (นายคทา ปาจริยพงษ์), a n employee in the trading a securities trading firm  (พนักงานฝ่ายการตลาด บริษัทเงินทุนหลักทรัพย์แห่งหนึ่ง). Several reports having him working for Seamico Securities but Reuters seems to have it right as KT Zmico Securities.

Reuters reports 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.” Bangkok Pundit says 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.

Bangkok Pundit states that both have been charged under the notorious Computer Crimes Act. MCOT English News reports 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 Democrat Party-led 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.

Reuters also says that police and other authorities are continuing investigations, hunting rumor mongers. It states that the “Securities and Exchange Commission has said it is seeking trading information on two accounts from two foreign brokers, Credit Suisse in Hong Kong … and UBS in Singapore…, in connection with the market plunge and was also looking at one domestic account.” Reuters adds that the “Department of Special Investigation, which comes under the Justice Ministry, is also conducting an inquiry into possible stock trading irregularities, which it expects to complete in late November.”

Bangkok Pundit comments on the case and justifiably asks several questions: “Is translating a Bloomberg news article enough? What about the news organizations who also reported what Bloomberg reported on then? Won’t they also be charged? What about the Bloomberg journalist in Hong Kong? We haven’t been given a timeline of when those posts were made yet, but this just sounds bizarre. Well bizarre unless this is just a cynical warning to commentators at Prachatai and Fah Diew Gun (both anti-coup, discuss issues related to the monarchy, more closely aligned with the red shirts, etc.).”

Update 2: International television and radio are now reporting these cases as if they are lese majeste case, referring to the so-called exalted status of the king and so on. While lese majeste cases are inevitably political, these reports are missing some of the basic issues: the Abhisit government has itself politicized the monarchy in this instance and is demonstrating to the international community that Thailand will be in deep political trouble when the king does die.

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