Free speech on trial in ThailandBy Asia Sentinel Feb 07, 2011 2:20PM UTC
Thai webmaster facing 50 years for lèse majesté postings, reports Asia Sentinel
Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the webmaster of Thailand’s independent news portal, Prachatai.com, went on trial Friday in Bangkok’s Criminal Court, facing up to 50 years in prison on charges of insulting Thailand’s monarchy.
The charges persist despite the fact that Chiranuch made none of the comments herself and apparently attempted to cooperate with Thailand’s censors, according to testimony by the country’s chief censor last Friday. Also, on three separate occasions, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has expressed concern about the case.
The trial, expected to last for eight days, is considered a landmark for the climate of free expression in Thailand. The government plans to call 14 witnesses as does the defense, making it highly unlikely that the trial will be completed in the time allotted by the court.
The public web forum has been blocked in Thailand since last July, although it is being updated in English and can be accessed elsewhere.
Chiranuch is the latest of scores of people to be charged with lèse majesté. Her trial comes amid widespread questions over why Chiranuch, a common citizen, is being charged while three of the country’s top officials – General Prem Tinsulanonda, the head of the Privy Council and a former prime minister, Anand Panyarachun, another former prime minister, and Air Chief Marshall Siddhi Savetsila have not been questioned. The three were quoted in an explosive cable made public by the WikiLeaks website making insulting comments to the then-US ambassador about the crown prince.
The comments express doubts over whether the prince, Maha Vajiralongkorn, should become king because of his links with fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and because of his reputation as a womanizer. The k, now 83, is in poor health and has been confined to a hospital for months.