Independent website’s editor’s arrest may herald more crackdowns, reports Asia Sentinel

The jailing Wednesday in Bangkok of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the webmaster of the popular independent Thai online news portal Prachatai, is another example of the stringent crackdown on any comment about the country’s monarchy as the process to succeed the ailing 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej grows more intense.

Chiranuch was released after paying a Bt300,000 (US$9,269) bond and spending four hours in jail. The arrest was made under the Computer Crimes Act for not quickly removing public comments from her website that were deemed offensive to the monarchy. The website has become home to serious dissent and discussion of the situation in the country, which has been wracked by political turmoil, rallies, strikes and violence since former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a royalist coup in September of 2006.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva, in comments after a March 2009 speech at St John’s College, Oxford in the UK, said he had “sorted out Chiranuch’s case and it was a misunderstanding by the police.” The raid on Prachatai came shortly after Abhisit, who had only been prime minister since December of 2008, had told an audience of media people that his government respected freedom of the press. 

Now the case has been taken up again, with or without Abhisit’s authority, raising questions whether the military and the right wing are feeling their oats and about to engineer a tightened crackdown against the press and critics. Given that Abhisit had specifically referred to Chiranuch’s case on several different occasions, saying it was “troubling,” it also raises questions about his own authority within the government. Pressure has been growing on authorities to crack down on any dissent given the serious illness of the king, the world’s longest-serving monarch and a linchpin for Thai society. 

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UPDATE: Webmaster held in latest lese majeste arrest