Thailand: Free speech on trial – day four

Day four: MICT and police lawyers testify
(Please also read day one, day two and day three trial)

The trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, independent news portal Prachatai’s webmaster continued Thursday in Bangkok’s Criminal Court. Two further prosecution witnesses were called to testify.

The morning session was devoted to MICT lawyer Somsak Supajirawat. He testified to cooperating with the Royal Thai Police after they issued search warrants for the Prachatai offices and an arrest warrant for Chiranuch on March 6, 2009.

Crime Suppression Division police seized six computer’s and Chiranuch laptop. When Jiew was in police custody, her laptop disk was copied in her presence. Of course, all the information—evidence!—recovered was already on the World Wide web.

Following this arrest Chiranuch was charged with four counts of lèse majesté using Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act, each carrying a potential five-year sentence. Somsak was aware of the MICT order to block Prachatai.

However, the MICT lawyer raised serious doubts regarding the continuity, maintenance and integrity of physical, forensic and digital computer evidence as it was monitored, investigated, examined and circulated within the ICT ministry and among several police divisions.

Somsak remembered Jiew well from her arrest. It added a surreal touch to the proceedings to see another prosecution witness smile and greet Chiranuch in the courtroom while attempting to lock her up. Such sincere antics remind observers, “This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around.”

A very real person who is dedicated solely to serving the online community is fighting for her life. The adversarial justice system treats this as a game—the prosecution “wins” when a defendant goes to prison.

The afternoon session saw prosecution witness Pairat Yawong, a private Bangkok lawyer partner of the firm Law Hom 999. A police lieutenant with Crime Suppression Division at Hua Mark police station retained Pairat for the police to examine a single posting to determine its legal status.

The witness declined to provide the officer’s name, citing legal confidentiality even though he had been paid with public funds. When questioned by the defence, Pairat refused to answer if his association with this lieutenant was in regards to the 2004 disappearance of prominent Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaichit. Somchai’s disappearance has been linked to Thai police and is the subject of ongoing legal proceedings. This case is still unsolved.

The lawyer found the posting to Prachatai’s webboard by ‘Bento’ referred to Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, as well Chitralada Palace, the Royal residence, in an oblique manner. The post mentions the Queen’s attendance at the October 12, 2008 funeral for a 28-year old Yellowshirt woman killed in clashes between police and protestors. This is simply factual reporting but was widely seen as symbolic of the Queen’s support for the PAD.

Although many social activists were killed over the six decades of this Royal family’s sovereignty, no other funeral was ever attended by a member of the Royal family. Although her attendance merely states a fact, Pairat characterised this mention as lèse majesté as it could lead the public to believe the Queen was interfering in Thai politics.

Lawyer Pairat stated that he had no opinion regarding lèse majesté (perhaps the only one in Thailand!) or any suspected movement against the monarchy but that he sometimes turned to Prachatai for news.

The witness testified that the only web fora in which he had participated were regarding legal matters and that his posts always appeared immediately suggesting no monitoring or moderation of posts.

As Pairat stated ‘Bento’’s post insulted the Queen, he said that repetition of lèse majesté could manipulate public opinion against the monarchy “because there is already a climate of public suspicion.”

Jiew’s trial is not a trial for lèse majesté because none of the posts expressed her own opinions. A free press, a free Internet and lèse majesté prosecutions are on trial in this case.

Not only Chiranuch’s freedom but the future of a free Internet is at stake.

Chiranuch’s trial resumes Friday, February 11, 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 11 and 14-17, although the judge may postpone next week to allow a schedule to hear all 28 witnesses. The case is certain to go overtime but another courtroom slot is unavailable before December.

The trial of alleged NorPhorChorUSA webmaster Tantawut Taweewarodomkul, nicknamed Kenny, also facing lèse majesté charges under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act as well as similar Criminal Code charges finished today. A judgement will be rendered on March 15 and it appears the prosecution case is rather weak.

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.





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