The Bangkok-based Prachatai website is well-known for carrying content that Thai newspapers will not publish.
Thailand’s reputation for media freedom has suffered in recent years, in particular through lese-majeste laws, which ban criticism of the monarchy.
Armed with an arrest warrant Thai police entered the offices of Prachatai, and detained Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the woman who founded the popular news website five years ago.
She has been charged under a new law which makes it an offence to carry computer content that endangers national security.
When asked to explain what kind of content had brought about the charge, the police refused to comment, saying it was too sensitive.
But one officer, who did not want to be named, told the BBC it was comments about the monarchy posted by readers on the website at the end of last year that were at issue. The Thai authorities have been increasingly intolerant of perceived criticism of the monarchy in recent months.
Thousands of websites have been blocked, and a number of people charged and arrested, including a well-known academic, who fled to Britain before he could be detained.
However the use of the severe lese-majeste law has provoked widespread condemnation around the world, and a campaign by academics to have the law changed.
By instead invoking the new computer crimes law – passed just 18 months ago – the authorities may be hoping to stifle debate about the monarchy without stirring up another outcry over freedom of expression in Thailand.
Chiranuch has apparently been charged under Section 15 of the Computer Crimes Act which provides that:
: It is basically an accessory-type offence although oddly the accessory also receives the same punishment as the principal offender. Wonder how long it takes them to go after the actual commentator. Have previously blogged on Section 14 here
– specifically touching on website comments! The relevant (based on what Matichon
quotes the police as stating) Section 14 provisions are below:
If any person commits any offence of the following acts shall be subject to imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than one hundred thousand baht or both:
(1) that involves import to a computer system of forged computer data, either in whole or in part, or false computer data, in a manner that is likely to cause damage to that third party or the public;
(3) that involves import to a computer system of any computer data related with an offence against the Kingdom’s security under the Criminal Code;
(5) that involves the dissemination or forwarding of computer data already known to be computer data under (1) (2) (3) or (4);
BP: Don’t know what the specific comments are about, but am not surprised they are also including subsection (1) as no member of the Royal Family have ever done anything wrong and so any criticism of them is lese majeste. Well that and arguing the truth of your statements is also a further instance of lese majeste.
Any hope that the new Democrat Party government of Prime Minister Vejjajiva Abhisit, who is usually described as “urbane” and “Oxford-educated,” would lighten up on the war against free expression ended Friday when two van-loads of police descended on the offices of Prachatai, a leading independent Thai-language website in Bankgkok, to arrest Chiranut Prempreecha, the woman who founded the website and serves as its coordinator.
BP: Should note for the record that BP does not think the Abhisit government was behind the raid and arrest (well, surely Abhisit is not stupid enough to give a major talk on media freedom and then do the raid the very same day). However, it seems highly unlikely that his government will willingly do something about the law on its own (will get to Abhisit and other Democrats statements of LM law in another post).
One could state they are surprised or shocked, but BP is neither. Did anyone expect anything different?