Thai webmaster Chiranuch found guilty, but avoids jail term
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Thai webmaster Chiranuch found guilty, but avoids jail term

Thai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn was found guilty this morning of not deleting lèse majesté comments on the now defunct web board of the Thai news website Prachatai quickly enough – she was sentenced to 1 year in prison, which was then reduced to an 8-month SUSPENDED sentence and a THB20,000 (US$630) fine.

In its verdict, the court states that Chiranuch has failed to delete one comment for 20 days, whereas the other nine objected comments were deleted within 10 days, thus violating against Article 14 and 15 of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act which punishes “false data” that damages a third party, causes public panic or undermines the country’s security and “any service provider intentionally supporting” the said offenses, respectively – despite the fact that the court also states that the expectation to pre-emptively delete illegal comments was “unfair”.

Below is a full live timeline of the morning’s events…

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.


Chiranuch "Jiew" Premchaiporn, webmaster of the Thai news website Prachatai, awaiting her verdict at the Crminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand on April 30, 2012. Miss Chiarnuch has been charged for not deleting comments deemed insulting to the country's monarchy not quickly enough and could face 20 years in prison. (Picture: Twitter/@thainetizen)

If that paragraph above sounds familiar to you – it should be: these are exactly the same words from the live-blog from the original verdict date one month ago. However, just mere 10 minutes before it was about to start, the court decided to postpone the verdict, since it needed more time “due to the complexity of the case”.

A lot has happened since then, most notably the death of lèse majesté-victim Amphon ‘Uncle SMS’ Tangnoppakul in prison and the  lèse majesté complaint lodged against Prachatai columnist Pravit Rojanaphruk. In light of these events, Chiranuch’s case could be an even more unprecedented moment that could really determine Thailand’s (dis-)regard for freedom of speech.

I’ll live-blog and comment the verdict here and also try to gather as many as reactions as possible. Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter @Saksith for up-to-the minute updates.

+++NOTE: All times are local Bangkok time (GMT +7)+++

12.13 h: That wraps up our live-blog. Today’s verdict is a clear sign by the Thai state that freedom of expression doesn’t really exist here. Besides directly cracking down on content that is deemed insulting, defaming to the monarchy or just simply not according to a dominant national narrative, the verdict also underlines the requirement to its citizen to self-censor to satisfy a pre-emptive obedience.

Today’s verdict also against the freedom of expression online, as all platforms that provide a place to express opinions are held liable for the view expressed by others, thus practically putting a brake on any free discussion. Also, virtually all social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and any ISP are also being the target as their owners theoretically under Thai law are held responsible, too.

This is a huge blow for internet freedom as the Thai authorities and its laws are still far from being up to date, as the latter are too ambiguiously worded and leave roo much room for misuse. Even though Chiranuch walks away free today, this verdict is a warning shot to everybody who dares to push the very limiting boundaries of what can be said in Thailand

Thanks for following the live-blog!

12.00 h: First comment by Chiranuch:

“I expected to be acquitted, but I found the judge’s verdict logical and reasonable,” a smiling Chiranuch told reporters. “However, I still think the verdict will have an impact on self-censorship.”

Thai webmaster sentenced in free speech case“, Associated Press, May 30, 2012

11.32 h: A picture of Chiranuch shortly after the verdict was read:

11.18 h: First wire news story on the verdict by AP:

BANGKOK (AP) – A Thai court has sentenced a local webmaster to an eight-month suspended sentence for failing to act quickly enough to remove Internet posts deemed insulting to Thailand’s royalty.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn faced up to 20 years in prison for 10 comments posted on her Prachatai website, a popular political Internet newspaper.

The case was seen as a test of freedom of expression in Thailand. She was the first webmaster prosecuted under tough cyber laws enacted after a 2006 coup.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has said prosecuting her sent “a chilling message to webmasters and Internet companies.”

Thai webmaster sentenced in free speech case“, Associated Press, May 30, 2012

11.16 h: This here was the basis for the reasoning of the verdict:

11.06 h: First reactions:

10.56 h: Summary: The Criminal Court still finds Chiranuch to be guilty, even though it has stated that the expectation to pre-emptively delete illegal comments to be “unfair” – but for the court they’re still illegal, and measured by the fact that it took more than 10 days to delete one of them, the court finds her guilty. Very foul compromise!

10.52 h: BREAKING: Thai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn found guilty for deleting lèse majesté comments not quickly enough – sentenced for 1 year prison, then reduced to an 8 months SUSPENDED prison term and THB 20,000 fine.

10.48 h: This is now getting crucial:

10.41 h:

10.35 h: Basically the court now is giving a summary of the case:

10.30 h: 

10.29 h:

10.26 h: Thai Netizen Network has the first tweets from the reading

Translation is following now…!

10.17 h: 

10.05 h: Good point!

10.01 h: The hearing on the verdict should be under way now…!

9.56 h:

This is standard court procedure, I’m sure we’ll still get the news quickly enough.

9.52 h: Meanwhile in the courtroom…

9.50 h: Bangkok Pundit has turned on his crystal ball:

Here’s hoping…

9.45 h: Here’s a news report by Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay on Chiranuch’s verdict, with a wider focus on lèse majesté as well:

9.40 h: From Google’s Amy Kunrojpanya:

9.35 h: On my Twitter timeline and in general, there’re quite noticeably less #freejiew tweets…

9.30 h: It is indeed a considerably big news day in Thailand, with the historical visit by Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, the end of the ban for the 111 Thai Rak Thai Party politicians and also a return of the yellow shirted PAD to the streets to protest the reconciliation bill. However, I’m pretty sure that a negative verdict could overshadow all of these within a heartbeat.

9.20 h: On Twitter, I asked Thanyarat Doksone from AP, who’s at the Criminal Court in Bangkok whether there are more or less media covering the verdict. Her answer is not surprising:

9.20 h: In the evening of the original verdict date, Prachatai has published an open letter by Chiranuch. Here’s an excerpt:

Dear All,

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

9.15 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 herand 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…!

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.

9.05 h: It’s important to stress out that Chiranuch 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 supposed to mean…!

9.00 h: Good Morning and welcome to the live-blog! Here’s a recap about Chiranuch’s case:

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 and here at iLaw.

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!