Thailand: Prominent webmaster receives 8 months suspended sentence
31 May 2012
Bangkok, 31 May 2012: Respected online media editor and human rights activist Chiranuch Premchaipron, was given an eight-month suspended jail sentence on 30 May for violating the country’s lèse-majesté law and Computer Crimes Act (CCA). Chiranuch is accused of allowing third-party comments deemed offensive to the monarchy to be posted on an online forum she moderates. ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns the sentence, which is a clear violation of international standards on the right to freedom of expression.
Chiranuch is the website manager of the prominent news portal Prachatai, and the recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation “Courage in Journalism” and the Human Rights Watch Hellman/Hammet Awards. She was arrested on 6 March 2009 during a crackdown on online media with content deemed offensive to the King, and was initially facing ten violations for ten separate online posts. The Bangkok Criminal Court found her guilty over one post and charged her under Section 15 of the CCA. The ruling judge noted that Chiranuch had failed in her responsibility as a web master by allowing one offensive post to be kept online for far too long, for which the judge said also implied her approval of the message posted.
“This case was the litmus test for the Thai government’s tolerance for freedom of expression, and it is obvious that there is none. Thailand’s severe lèse-majesté and computer crime laws not only obstruct free speech, but they also place web hosts in an extremely compromising position where they are held responsible for the words of others.” says Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.
Chiranuch’s conviction comes only three weeks after the death of Amphon Tangnoppaku, also known as Ar Kong or ‘Uncle SMS’, a 61-year old grandfather who died in prison whilst serving a 20-year prison sentence for sending four text messages deemed as insulting against the Queen of Thailand. His sentence was the heaviest ever handed down for a lèse-majesté case.
Thailand’s severe lèse-majesté laws are such that it is prohibited to even recount the details of an alleged offence. In his consideration of Thailand’s human rights during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in October 2011, Frank LaRue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, noted that “the laws are vague and overly broad, and the harsh criminal sanctions are neither necessary nor proportionate to protect the monarchy or national security”. He also said in his influential report of May 2011 on freedom of expression on the Internet that "no one should be held liable for content on the Internet of which they are not the author" and in particular that "no State should use or force intermediaries to undertake censorship on its behalf."
Under Article 112 of Thailand’s Penal Code, lèse-majesté violation carries a maximum of fifteen years imprisonment if one is found guilty of defaming, insulting or threatening the King and his family. By providing special protection for the royal family, Thailand is in breach of international guarantees of freedom of expression, which require public figures to tolerate more, rather than less, criticism.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Thai Criminal Court to reverse Chiranuch’s sentence with haste. In addition, ARTICLE 19 urges the Thai authorities to fulfil earlier assurances of legal reform, and take immediate steps to engage advisory committees and deliver a review on the implementation and use of lèse-majesté, with the ultimate aim of repealing the lèse-majesté law. Furthermore, ARTICLE 19 calls for the Computer Crimes Act to be brought in accordance with the Thai constitution and international standards of freedom of expression.
- For media interviews, please contact Rose Obianwu, ARTICLE 19 Senior Press Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org or call + 44 (207) 324 2510.
- For more information, please contact Judy Taing, ARTICLE 19 Asia Programme Officer, email@example.com or call + 1 (646) 725 - 1444
- ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.
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