Police have arrested a Thai computer programmer on charges of insulting the nation’s revered king on a Facebook page, his lawyer said Monday. The charges carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
Surapak Puchaisaeng, a 40-year-old Bangkok resident, was also accused of violating the Computer Crime Act for the alleged defamatory comments, his lawyer Lomrak Meemuean said.
Surapak denied insulting 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Police confiscated his desktop and laptop computers, his lawyer said.
Cases involving insults to the monarchy, known as lese majeste, have skyrocketed in recent years, but Friday’s arrest of Surapak is the first since a new government took power in August, according to the activist network Freedom Against Censorship Thailand.
Via a Prachatai journalist, Ratsadorn Prasong law office website, who represent a number of people charged with lese majeste including Joe Gordon, have a statement on their website regarding Surapak’s arrest. BP has summarized the statement below:
On Friday afternoon, around 10 plain clothes DSI officers arrested him at his apartment in Bangkok on lese majeste and Computer Crimes Act offences. It then quotes Surapak as stating that the police accused him of creating a Facebook page. He said he denied all knowledge and that they said he used the username Dork Or (“ดอกอ้อ”) and was involved in the website Nor Por Chor USA. “I denied all knowledge, but they tried to force me to sign a confession. I went to telephone a lawyer, but [they] took the mobile phone from me.” He said that he then signed the confession and gave his password when asked as he said he was afraid. They then took me to DSI and I was able to contact a lawyer. It was good that I got a lawyer from Puea Thai and was able to deny the charges.”
He says he is well and thanks all those who are concerned and thanks those from Puea Thai who helped him. He said that his relatives in Bung Kan Province contacted Puea Thai and the local MP would use their MP status to try to bail him out.
From a blog post just after the election:
1. If BP’s memory serves BP correctly, the last time that lese majeste law was amended was in the 1970s by a military/military-installed government so don’t expect any amendments immediately because to do so will just invoke Thaksin-wants-to-overthrow-the-monarchy-argument.
2. Yingluck’s answer is quite vague and BP is not surprised that she will hand it over to a committee to deal with (that is how BP interprets “someone specialized to discuss”) and this seems roughly in line for the process that Tida wants. Will this be a parliamentary committee, the job of the new committee, the National Human Rights Commission, or will the Kanit committee be tasked with looking into this too?
3. So you can see an outline, as with the amnesty issue, it will be the economy first and so you have 6-12 months before the committee reports back with options. One possible problem for this process is if someone is arrested/multiple people are arrested under lese majeste law or Computer Crimes Act in the meantime, how will Yingluck and the government respond? What if someone previously arrested in a high-profile case* goes on trial?
4. Also, will the ICT Minister do with all the task forces set up to find those who make comments deemed offensive to the monarchy online? Will they be disbanded? Maybe hard to do now without Thaksin-wants-to-overthrow-the-monarchy-argument, but depending on who becomes ICT Minister** they maybe gradually cut back on such programs after the budget. As long as 3 doesn’t happen, the government may be able to get away with this in the short-term. Many reds will be wanting progress, the military and the bureaucracy will be resisting so there is a difficult balancing act which could easily be knocked in a direction by a case/arrest.
BP: The new ICT Minister and Chalerm have already stated that they will strictly enforce the lese majeste law although there are certainly others in the party who disagree although have not done so publicly. On one hand, we have Ministers supporting the law and the executive arresting a person, but on the other hand we have a member of the legislature and a group within the party helping with bail and a lawyer (if the statement quoting Surapak is accurate).
Many in Puea Thai and particularly red shirts want the DSI Chief Tharit replaced. Given his agency’s involvement in the arrest, will be be replaced? If so or not, how can that be interpreted?
As noted in 3, once there was a lese majeste arrest, pressure from red shirts and some* Puea Thai voters who want changes to the law. It is one thing to do nothing when there are no new arrests, but there is an arrest now. Nevertheless, it is extremely unlikely we are going to see any change in the lese majeste law in the near future because that would almost certainly result in a fierce response from the establishment and media criticism that they are not focusing on the economy. Is providing a lawyer and trying to seek bail, Puea Thai’s answer** now? Is this the first arrest of many? The pressure will only build with each arrest…
*How does one quantify what percentage of Puea Thai voters want some reform of lese majeste?
** Hard to know how coordinated the lawyer and the offer of bail is though.