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Trial of Media Editor in Thailand Violates Free Expression

Freedom House condemns the trial of online media editor and human rights defender Prachatai executive director, Chiranuch (Jiew) Premchaiporn, who is accused of allowing comments deemed critical of the monarchy to be posted on the online forum that she moderates. Freedom House urges the Thai government to drop all charges against her and to immediately amend the country’s 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA), so that it conforms to international human rights standards.

Jiew is on trial for violating Section 15 of the CCA, which allows the Thai government to hold service providers liable for content written by third-party visitors that is deemed “offensive.”   In 2009, Jiew was charged with intentionally supporting and consenting to the publication of ten comments on the Prachatai Webboard that were considered to have violated Article 112 of the Criminal Code. Commonly known as Lèse–Majesté, Article 112 makes criticism of Thailand’s royal family a crime. As the Webmaster of the Prachatai Webboard, Jiew was held accountable for all content posted on the Prachatai website and was accused of failing to remove the third party posts in a timely fashion after being notified by the authorities.

If convicted, Jiew could face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison or be fined 1 million Thai Bhat (approximately US$33,400).

“Jiew’s trial should send a chilling signal to all who care about freedom of expression in Thailand as she is not even the actual ‘perpetrator’ of the  offense, but charged with being merely the “intermediary” in the case,” said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, senior program manager for Southeast Asia at Freedom House.  “The archaic Lèse–Majesté laws, coupled with the CCA, gives Thai authorities carte blanche to clamp down on any form of expression they consider offensive and creates an environment in which self-censorship is increasingly becoming the norm.”
Enacted during the political instability that characterized the aftermath of Thailand’s coup d'état in 2006, the CCA remains vague in defining what constitutes an “offensive” act.  The Thai government’s enforcement of this law has increasingly been used to curtail online freedom of expression by intimidating both the cyber-activist and blogging community as well as the intermediaries who are held liable for content that appears on their websites.

“If the newly-elected Thai government wants to truly institutionalize democratic norms in the country, it must amend the CCA in a way that is consistent with international standards governing freedom of expression online,” continued Gunawardena-Vaughn.

Thailand is ranked Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010 and Freedom on the Net 2011.



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