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Thai webmaster charged for violating Computer-Related Crime Act

After a year of investigations, Thai public prosecutors on 31 March 2010 filed a criminal lawsuit against Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director and webmaster of Thailand's independent online news website Prachatai.com, for allegedly failing to remove from the site's discussion board readers' comments deemed offensive to the monarchy.

According to the "Bangkok Post", Ms. Chiranuch was later detained at the ground floor of the Criminal Court for about four hours before being released on bail. Bail was set at THB 300,000 (around US$9,200), but the Prachatai executive director was eventually released on personal guarantee posted by her sister, who is a government official.

Chiranuch was first arrested on 6 March 2009 on strength of charges under the 2007 Computer-Related Crimes Act. About a month later, on 7 April 2009, an additional nine charges were brought against her on the same account, each charge corresponding to nine comments posted on the newspaper's website between April and June 2008.

The total of 10 charges proceeded despite the fact that all comments were eventually taken down by Prachatai upon the request of Thai police. As Prachatai is one of the most popular independent news, commentary, and discussion online platforms in Thailand, and receives numerous comments daily, Ms. Chiranuch maintains that she was not aware of the controversial comments until she was notified.

Observers of Prachatai also note that the website was known to be pragmatic and cooperative with officials in the past, especially when it comes to items that could potentially be considered lese majeste (insulting to the monarchy), or in violation of the Computer-Related Crimes Act (which critics contend is but another layer to the same lese majeste laws.)

If convicted, Chiranuch may be meted up to 50 years imprisonment under the Computer Crimes Act.

The Criminal Court has set 31 May 2010 for the first hearing on her case.

The charges brought against her based on Article 14 and 15 of the 2007 Computer-Related Crimes Act as well as Article 91 of Criminal Code and Article 4 of the 1983 amendment Act (Sixth Issue)  to the Penal Code.

Thailand's Computer-Related Crimes Act was introduced in 2007 under the post-coup government of General Surayudh Chulanont. Observers and critics say that the law was designed to deal with bloggers and websites that spoke against the coup and implicated the role of the monarchy in the political battle between opponents and supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. One blogger, Suvicha Thakor, was convicted under the law and sentenced to a 20-year prison term in April 2009. He has applied for a royal clemency and is waiting for the result.

At least six other people are facing similar charges but police have yet to arraign them. As director and webmaster of Prachatai.com, Ms. Chiranuch is the most prominent personality to be prosecuted under the controversial Computer Crimes Act.

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