Three Internet users have been arrested in the past four days for posting articles blaming King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s poor health for last month’s fall in the Bangkok stock exchange. They have been charged under article 14 of the Computer Crimes Act 2007 with endangering national security by spreading false rumours about the king’s health.
The first two to be arrested were Katha Pajariyapong, 37, of the brokerage company KT ZMICO, and Theeranan Vipuchan, 43, a former executive with UBS Securities. Arrested on 1 November, they have been freed on bail but are forbidden to leave the country. The third person is Somchet Ittiworakul, 38, who was arrested yesterday.
Accused of disseminating reports that caused stocks to fall in mid-October, they are facing possible five-year jail sentences and fines of 100,000 baths (2,000 euros).
“We call for the charges against these three Internet users to be dismissed,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Such accusations are baseless and violate the right to report an economic event after it has taken place. Explaining that the stock exchange fall was linked to the king’s health harms neither the king nor national security.”
The authorities are currently pursuing the investigation with the aim of identifying the defendants’ motives and establishing whether they profited from the publication of the offending reports. The police have confiscated their personal and office computers.
The defendants just posted articles online that linked the fall in stocks to the fact that the king was admitted to Bangkok’s Siriraj on 19 September. Theeranan points out that all she did was translate and post a Bloomberg agency article written after the fall (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aWSLmdQccvyo), and that she was not paid to do this.
It seems that the translation of the Bloomberg dispatch is the only piece of hard evidence in the prosecution case file. The investigators have not mentioned the original article and have referred only to the translation, which reinforces the impression that the three defendants are being used as scapegoats for the fall in stocks.
The police say the three defendants do not know each other. The authorities have meanwhile revealed that they are investigating two other Internet users with a view to arresting them for the same reason.
Although it does not mention lèse-majesté (attacks on the monarchy), the Computer Crimes Act 2007 punishes crimes that threaten national security and, under Thai law, lèse-majesté is a crime that threatens national security. To avoid being closed down, many Internet sector companies cooperate with the authorities and comply with all requests for information about individual Internet users. The supreme court has never issued a ruling on the Computers Crime Act.
Around 55,000 websites are currently blocked in Thailand on suspicion of violating the lèse-majesté laws, while 34 people are currently being prosecuted on lèse-majesté charges.