Foreign web host company ‘snitched’ lese majeste critic to Thai authorities
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Foreign web host company ‘snitched’ lese majeste critic to Thai authorities

By Saksith Saiyasombut

Earlier this month, the United States has expressed “disappointment” over the prosecution of Joe Gordon, a naturalized US citizen from Thailand who was arrested in May and charged with lèse majesté. Gordon has allegedly linked to the book “The King Never Smiles”, an unauthorized and banned biography on Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej and posted translated parts on his blog back in 2007.

The technology website Ars Technica noq has a piece about another Thai-turned-US citizen who ran into trouble with Thailand’s draconian lèse majesté law:

In May 2006, Anthony Chai, a naturalized United States citizen from Thailand, took a flight back to the land of his birth to catch up with relatives and friends. He visited his nieces and nephews and spent some time at the resort town of Hua Hin.

But according to a new lawsuit, when Chai tried to return to California via Bangkok airport, he was stopped by a quintet of security agents. Employed by Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation, they informed him that they had a warrant for his arrest for committing an act of lèse majesté—a public statement that supposedly violates the “dignity” of a ruler. (…)

The DPI [sic] officers took Chai to an interrogation center and allegedly deprived him of food, water, and sleep until 3.30am while barraging him with accusations and threats. “I know where your relatives live in Bangkok and California,” Chai says that one policeman told him. “If you want them to live in peace, you must cooperate.”

Thai censorship critic strikes back at snitch Web host“, Ars Technica, August 29, 2011

Just a reminder: this took place in May 2006, back when the numbers for lèse majesté cases were by far not as high as they were today! The article goes on to describe the interrogation, including that Chai allegedly had to hand over passwords and e-mail addresses so the officers could access his confiscated laptop.

At one point during the interrogation, Chai was presented with a document that revealed the e-mail addresses that he and an associate had used to post comments to (…)

Did Anthony Chai even make statements against the Thai monarchy? No. Using an anonymous e-mail address, he had posted comments critical of Thailand’s lèse majesté law to the website (…) The site was eventually shut down by its Canadian host, Netfirms, at the request the Thai government.

Thai censorship critic strikes back at snitch Web host“, Ars Technica, August 29, 2011

This shows the problem of the ambiguously worded lèse majesté law, which states “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years” – without saying though what actually constitutes defamation or insult, criticizing the law itself doesn’t seem to fit it.

The fact that Chai could be charged for something he did outside the Kingdom is thanks to the Section 17 of the Computer Crimes Act that basically states anyone, Thai or not, can be charged under this law no matter from where the offense was committed.

The Ars Technica article then highlights a rather strange and blatantly impudent acts of a Thai police Colonel personally showing up in California to meet Chai – that has to be read in its entirety…

So, how did the Thai authorities found out about him…?

But Netfirms didn’t just close the site, say Chai and his attorneys.

“Sometime before May 2006, also at the request of Thai officials, provided Mr. Chai’s IP address and the two e-mail addresses associated with that IP address,” Chai’s complaint charges, “without Mr. Chai’s knowledge or consent.” In addition, the Canadian company allegedly handed over this data without requesting a court order, subpoena, or warrant from Thai authorities, and without contacting the US State Department for guidance.

Thai censorship critic strikes back at snitch Web host“, Ars Technica, August 29, 2011

This procedure mirrors Yahoo!’s outing of Chinese cyber dissidents over the last several years. What differs in Chai’s case though is that Netfirms is not based in Thailand and did not need to appease the Thai government by making amends with their internet services – so it seems quite strange why this Candian company was so willing to snitch him to Thai authorities without any kind of documentation.

This is why Chai is now, with the help of the World Organization for Human Rights, suing Netfirms $75,000 in damages. It will be interesting to see how this court case will turn out, since this is the first time (at least to my knowledge) that a foreign internet firm has actively assisted Thai authorities with the prosecution of alleged lèse majesté offenders.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.