Thailand: Free speech on trial (day two)

Day Two: Thailand’s chief censor continues in Prachatai trial (Day one trial see)

The second day in the lèse majesté trial against Chiranuch Premchaiporn, webmaster of Thai independent news portal, Prachatai, using the Computer Crimes Act began Tuesday.

Chiranuch, nicknamed Jiew, was charged over ten comments to Prachatai’s public webboard which Thai government says she was not prompt enough to delete. Each charge carries a potential sentence of five years. Chiranuch is facing 50 years in prison for being a journalist. Bangkok’s Criminal Court was once again filled with local and international supporters, media and foreign diplomats.

The defence cross-examination of Aree Jivorarak, chief of Thailand’s ICT ministry and Thai government’s chief censor, continued from Friday.

At today’s hearing, Chiranuch’s defence sought to examine each of the alleged comments insulting Thailand’s monarchy. The defence questioned the indirect phraseology used by the commentators.

Some examples were, does it insult His Majesty the King or Her Majesty the Queen to suggest that they supported the Thai military’s coup d’etat in 2006? Can the use of the pronouns he and she definitively be taken to mean the King, Queen or Heir Apparent? Is any discussion of Thailand’s monarchy, its meaning and duties, demeaning the institution?

One poster asked Prachatai readers to “understand” the King’s own words. Aree repeatedly applied the word “inappropriate”. Of course, inappropriate does not mean illegal!

A posting to Prachatai’s web forum included a hotlink to a audio file of of a speech made from a Redshirt stage by Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, nicknamed Da Torpedo. Darunee was torpedoed with an 18-year sentence for this instance of lèse majesté in which she called for abolition of the Royals.

The audio file was not enough for our MICT. The file was transcribed and added to the police charges against Chiranuch. However, Mediafile was not blocked and no prosecution was initiated against the file’s uploader.

This raises a crucial legal question as yet untested. Does the Computer Crimes Act criminalize hotlinks?

The MICT chief censor stated that his ministry could not pursue prosecutions but merely recommend their investigation to the Royal Thai Police. The police also are in charge of tracing IP addresses suspected of illegality. In Thailand, ISPs always connect to Internet users via a telephone line which, of course, has an owner and a fixed address.

When asked if the ICT ministry was pursuing a vendetta against Prachatai, the witness stated he did not want to answer, even when directed by the judge. In fact, Aree continued to be evasive of defence questioning. This writer counted at least 34 instances in which he answered, “I’m not sure”, “I don’t remember”, and “I’d have to check”.

He also stated that the law does not have any notice-and-takedown provision. However, Aree said Chiranuch uniformly cooperated in every instance with MICT when they requested deletion of her.

Thailand’s chief censor also explained that his ministry only censors using Google Search and does not filter web fora. When asked if such filtering is done in other countries, Aree stated, “Only in China.”!

On redirect examination by the public prosecutor, the MICT censor admitted to participation in the draft of the draconian computer law promulgated by the military coup legislature. Again today, the prosecutor asked questions of this prosecution witness which contained the right answers.

On defence redirect questioning, Thailand’s censor chief also stated that he had seen banned books on sale from Prachatai. However, he could recall no specific titles and was unsure whether or not banning had taken place. He had not only not tried to buy any of these so-called banned books but wrote no report as to their sale on the website.

Although Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act requires application of a court order to block web pages, often pages were blocked months before. At least 425,296 web pages are blocked in Thailand under martial law until December 22, rising at a rate of around 690 per day.

The principles of freedom of expression as a basic human right also constitutionally protect what Thai government calls lèse majesté. What is at issue is the intent to defame. Another crucial consideration in defamation is whether the statements written are true or not.

It is clearly impossible for someone who did not write the posting to be guilty of any illegality. If government wants to censor our Internet, then it must also police the Internet. It is not the responsibility of webmasters to do government’s dirty work of censorship for them.

Chiranuch’s trial resumes Wednesday, February 9, at Bangkok’s Criminal Court (San Aya), on Ratchadapisek Road opposite Soi 38, Lat Phrao MTR station. Chiranuch’s trial is in Courtroom 701 on February 9-11 and 14-17 and probably longer.

Alleged NorPhorChorUSA webmaster Tantawut Taweewarodomkul, nicknamed Kenny, is also facing lèse majesté charges under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act as well as similar Criminal Code charges.

Kenny has been held without bail since April 2010. NorPhorChor is an acronym for the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, commonly known as the Redshirts. Tantawut’s trial will enter its second day Wednesday, February 9 in Courtroom 906.





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