Thai reporter faces jail for insult to king

Campaigners in Thailand have called for the dropping of charges against a journalist who is being is being prosecuted over comments posted on a news website that were critical of the country’s royal family. If convicted, she faces up to 50 years in jail.

In a case that is being seen as test of the country’s questionable commitment to free speech as well as an examination of its controversial “lese majeste” laws, a court in Bangkok is hearing evidence against Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of an online news site called Prachatai, or Thai People. Ms Premchaiporn is not accused of posting the comments herself – with no small irony that person was acquitted in a separate hearing – but she is charged with failing to delete them from the website.



“Chiranuch should not be in the dock,” said Benjamin Zawacki, a regional spokesman for Amnesty International. “The comments for which she is being held responsible should not be prohibited in the first place, much less when they are posted by someone else.”



The evidence currently being heard against the 32-year-old journalist relates to charges covered by the so-called Computer-related Crimes Act of 2007, which deals with the liability of online intermediaries relating to national security. She has also been charged under the lese majeste legislation, in a case that will be heard subsequently.



While the lese majeste laws have existed for decades in Thailand, the punishments were sharply increased during the mid-1970s by one of the country’s many military-backed administrations. Now, an individual can be jailed for up to 15 years for any comment deemed to be critical of or harmful towards the ailing King Bhumibol or members of the 83-year-old’s family.



Experts say the laws have been increasingly invoked, and often to prosecute dissidents or members of the political opposition. Several leaders of the anti-government Red Shirt movement have pursued using lese majeste legislation and writers and journalists have been jailed.

At least 44,000 websites have been blocked. David Streckfuss, an American academic based in Thailand and author of a recent study of the lese majeste laws, said that from just one or two incidents a year two decades ago, in 2009 a total of 164 cases were brought to court.



“Unfortunately, it appears that in all of this political turmoil, lese majeste has become the preferred charge against political opponents, especially against the Red Shirts or those perceived to be sympathisers. The law has now become more than just a latent threat,” Mr Streckfuss said last year in an interview with Prachatai. “Thailand cannot claim to be democratic while at the same time arresting and trying hundreds of people for freedom of expression.”



Prachatai was founded in 2004 by Jon Ungpakorn, a winner of the Ramon Magsaysay award. It was established amid growing concern about threats to the mainstream media during the premiership of prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was later ousted in a coup in 2006. Prachatai estimates that at the time when the offending remarks were posted, between April and August 2008, it was receiving up to 2,500 new comments every day. Ms Premchaiporn was the site’s only full-time moderator. She said that she removed the purportedly harmful comments when she was contacted by officials from the government’s ministry of information.



Press freedom campaigners say the case will do little to improve Thailand’s reputation. In a recent survey compiled by the group Reporters Without Borders, Thailand was positioned 153rd out of a total of 178 countries. In 2002, it had been in 65th position. Tyrell Haberkorn, a research fellow at the Australian National University, who has been studying press freedom in Thailand, said last night: “The effect of this is incredibly chilling This is sending a message that no matter where you write, be it online, be it on Facebook, then the state is paying attention.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager / Section Manager - Airport Security

£40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a critical role within the secur...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45-55k

£20000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is an established, ...

Recruitment Genius: E-Commerce Manager - Fashion Accessories

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Senior / Assistant Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Exciting new position available at an independ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn