Freedom House Condemns Prison Sentence for Thai Webmaster

Washington

Freedom House condemns the verdict on May 30 sentencing Thai webmaster, Chiranuch (Jiew) Premchaiporn to an eight-month suspended prison sentence and to pay a fine of 20,000 Thai Baht ($630) for comments posted by visitors to her online forum that were deemed “offensive” to the monarchy. She was convicted under the Computer-Related Crime Act (CCA), which holds internet service and content providers criminally liable for content they host or transmit. The verdict is yet another chilling indicator of the ever-shrinking space for free expression in Thailand.

Premchaiporn was the webmaster of the now-closed web-board run by the Thai online media agency, Prachatai. She was arrested in March 2009 and convicted of “supporting or consenting to” the posting of ten offensive comments which were added by third-party visitors to the web board between April and November 2008.  While Premchaiporn and her colleagues responded swiftly to the authorities’ request to remove the comments, she was accused of not doing it quickly enough.

The Thai government has used the CCA, and Article 112 of the Criminal Code (Lèse Majesté), which criminalizes any criticism of the royal family, to curtail the space for diverse political opinions. It has charged online journalists, cyber-activists and bloggers as well as intermediaries under these laws.

“Jiew’s sentence is an alarming bellwether that the Thai government does not value free opinion and expression of its citizens,” said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, director for Southeast Asia programs at Freedom House. “Both the CCA and the Criminal Code fail to conform to universal rights standards, such as those mandated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand signed onto in 1996. In order to meet its international human rights obligations, Thailand must decriminalize defamation online and offline.”

Thailand is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2012 and Freedom of the Press 2012, and Not Free in Freedom of the Net 2011.  Fines and imprisonment for defamation and criticism of the government are still used as a means to silence government critics.  The end of 2011 saw an increase in repressive practices through a new online monitoring agency and the expanded use of lèse-majesté laws. In December 2011, U.S. citizen Joe Gordon was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for posting a link on his website to a book that was critical of the monarchy. In May 2012, Thai citizen Ampon Tangnoppakul  - “Uncle SMS” - died while serving a 20-year prison sentence after he was convicted in November 2011 of violating the Computer-Related Crimes Act and Lèse Majesté law for sending text messages ‘offending the Thai royal family.’ Tangnoppakul had denied all charges against him, claiming he did not even know how to send a text message.

For more information on Thailand, visit:

Freedom in the World 2011: Thailand
Freedom of the Press 2011: Thailand
Freedom on the Net 2011: Thailand
Blog: Democracy and Deluge in Thailand

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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