Today at 10.00 AM (Bangkok time) the Thai Criminal Court will give its verdict against Chiranuch “Jiew” Premchaiporn, the webmaster of the news website Prachatai. Chiranuch is being prosecuted for failing to delete 10 comments made by others that are deemed insulting to the monarchy not quickly enough. She has been arrested in 2009 and again in 2011, while the website itself has been hit by numerous takedown orders and blocked repeatedly by authorities.
This case highlights the ambiguous legal foundation: Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act (CCA), which punishes “false data” that damages a third party, causes public panic or undermines the country’s security, while the webmaster herself is being charged under Article 15, which punishes “any service provider intentionally supporting” the said offenses. These violations would be punished by five years of imprisonment – for each offense – theoretically tallying up to a total 50 years, but legally ‘only’ a maximum of 20.
Since the alleged comments are regarded as lèse majesté, this case also shines a light on the infamously draconian Article 112 of the Penal Code. All these articles leave (intentionally or not) wide room for interpretation and thus, as seen countless times in recent years, rampant misuse. More details can be read in this factsheet by Thai Netizen Network.
Despite the numerous cases and victims who have been actually charged under lèse majesté, this case is being regarded as crucial since it not only highlights the vague legal interpretation of the law made possible by the ambiguous wording and highlights the challenges against a (perceived) decrease of freedom of speech, but since these comments were not made by her, her thoughts and intentions are on trial, only because she did not delete these comments quickly enough!
I’ll live-blog and comment the verdict here and also try to gather as many as reactions as possible, for example from the SEAPA press conference immediately after the trial. Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter @Saksith for up-to-the minute updates.
+++NOTE: All times are local Bangkok time (GMT +7)+++
10.25 h: And that prematurely concludes our live coverage of the verdict on Prachatai’s Chiranuch Premchaiporn. Today could have brought in at least some certainty about in what state Thailand is currently in and what stances it has to freedom of expression, especially online. Instead, the Thai judiciary, probably overwhelmed by the large international attention, runs away from a mess they created themselves thanks to ambiguous laws. We’ll meet again in a month!
10.10 h: Meanwhile, Prachatai has published an open letter by Chiranuch written in the night before today’s would be-verdict. Here’s an excerpt:
I write to you to share my thoughts before the verdict will be read in the next 7 hours. Although I still don’t know any answer for my life, I wish we can win the case but I should prepare for unexpected results too. Many of you asked how do I feel as the verdict is approaching. Honestly, there were mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m glad that I’m able to get some guide of my future, it might be better than never known. (…)
“Chiranuch’s letter prior to the verdict“, Prachatai, April 30, 2012
BANGKOK (AP) – A Bangkok court has postponed its verdict in a case involving allegedly insulting comments about the monarchy that is testing the bounds of Internet freedom in Thailand.
A verdict in the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn had been expected Monday but was pushed back to May 30. She faces up to 20 years in jail and is accused of not acting quickly enough to remove reader comments that were deemed insulting to the country’s royal family.
The comments were posted on the website of her newspaper, Prachatai.
Chiranuch’s case has drawn much criticism from international rights groups against Thailand’s tough computer crime laws, which were enacted in 2007.
“Thai court postpones webmaster verdict to May 30“, Associated Press, April 30, 2012
9.51 h: “Due to the complexity of the case”…. aha, they just realized that 10 minuted before the verdict?!
9.48 h: What a farce!
— Zoe Daniel (@seacorro) April 30, 2012
09:36 Chiranuch’s lawyers are informed that the hearing is to be postponed. #freejiew
— iLaw Club (@iLawclub) April 30, 2012
9.40 h: Also of note here is that often times the CCA is being used in conjunction with Article 112, which has been used numerous times to curb freedom of speech online.
9.35 h: However, her case also highlights the problematic application of the laws mentioned – especially Article 112 since anybody can file it from anywhere. Chiranuch herself was arrested again in 2011 after a man in Northeastern Khon Kaen filed a complaint against her and was dragged to that town on the spot shortly she arrived at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok – ironically after she came back from a panel on internet freedom in Hungary…!
9.30 h: Just to recap: It’s important to stress out that @jiew is NOT charged under Art. #112 #LM, but Art. 15 of the CCA which punishes “any service provider intentionally supporting” for violations made against Art. 14 for “false data” that damages “false data” that damages a third party, causes public panic or undermines the country’s security – whatever that is suppose to mean…!
— Thanyarat Doksone (@8td) April 30, 2012