Human rights advocates on Wednesday condemned a Thai Supreme Court decision upholding a webmaster’s conviction for failing to remove online comments seen as offensive to Thailand’s royals quickly enough.
London-based Amnesty International called on the court to reverse its ruling in the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, web editor of the Thai news portal Prachatai, who now faces eight months in prison.
A lower court convicted Chiranuch in 2012 under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act. The Supreme Court’s failure to overturn that ruling is the latest blow to freedom of speech in the junta-ruled kingdom, Amnesty said.
“This is a chilling verdict that clearly shows the authorities’ fear of allowing free speech online, and their desire to scare the media from both airing and facilitating political opinions,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s acting senior research director, said in a statement.
“Chiranuch should never have had to face trial at all– the ‘offending’ comments responsible should not be prohibited in the first place, let alone when they are posted by someone else,” he added.
The Supreme Court upheld Chiranuch’s eight-month prison sentence – which had been suspended for a year – and a fine of 20,000 baht (U.S. $555), the Associated Press reported.
Watch what you say
Although the Prachatai webmaster was convicted in 2012 for computer crimes, Thailand has seen a sharp rise in royal defamation cases prosecuted under its infamous Lese-Majeste law since the military seized power in May 2014.
People from all walks of society have been charged and prosecuted for speech deemed as insulting to the Thai monarchy.
On Dec. 14, a Thai man, Thanakorn Siripaiboon, was charged under Lese-Majeste for posting images and comments on Facebook that were seen as mocking the king’s dog.
The junta has also cracked down on its critics in the media by detaining journalists and activists for so-called “attitude adjustment” sessions that can last up to a week.
After being subjected to one of these sessions in September, which lasted a few days, Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk resigned from his job as senior reporter and columnist for The Nation newspaper.
Sunai Phasuk, a Bangkok-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, described Chiranuch’s conviction as “tightening a chokehold on freedom of expression.”
“More and more web moderators and Internet service providers will censor discussions about the monarchy out of fear they too may be prosecuted for other people’s comments,” Sunai told Agence-France Presse.
According to AP, Chiranuch had faced as many as 20 years in prison under the computer crimes law for failing to remove 10 comments posted by readers on the Prachatai site. She was convicted in May 2012 for one comment that stayed online for 20 days.
The lower court found that Chiranuch had not personally violated Lese-Majeste, because a third party had posted the online comment. But it convicted for taking 20 days to remove that one comment, according to AFP.
“I am disappointed with the verdict and I think the interpretation of the law has pushed a burden onto service operations,” Chiranuch, who was awarded the Courage in Journalism Award in 2011 by the International Women’s Media Foundation, told AFP.