Reporters Without Borders voices its support for Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the editor of the Prachatai news website, whose trial before a criminal court in the Bangkok district of Rachada is due to begin on 31 May. She is facing up to 50 years in prison for failing to act with sufficient speed to remove “offensive” comments about the monarchy posted by visitors to the site.
“We call for the immediate withdrawal of the charges against Chiranuch,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This trial is an important test for the government. Convicting the editor of an independent quality media would constitute a frontal attack on press freedom. Acquitting her, on the other hand, would sent a positive sign to the entire population, which needs more than ever to be informed about what is going on in Thailand. The crisis will not be resolved if freedom of expression is not respected.”
Arrested on 31 March, Chiranuch was released after three hours when her sister stood guarantee for the 300,000 bahts (6,000 euros) in bail demanded by the judicial authorities. She told Reporters Without Borders that she had “concerns about the trial” in the current political climate.
“In normal times I would be more confident about this initial hearing,” she said. “I hope the court will make allowances. As the Computer Crimes Act is relatively new, the court’s verdict is bound to set a legal precedent.”
Under the Computer Crimes Act, owners and editors of websites can be prosecuted when comments are posted that are deemed to have broken the lèse majesté legislation or other laws. The owners are regarded as being as responsible as the visitors who posted the comments.
Chiranuch’s website and its pages in the Facebook and Twitter social networks have been repeatedly blocked by the Centre for Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) since the start of Thailand’s political crisis in mid-March.
“We changed the site’s URL several times,” she said. “Our site’s initial URL was www.Prachatai.com, but after it was blocked, we changed it to www.Prachatai.net and then to www.Prachatai.info. The CRES blocked our site again on the morning of 26 May. It can now be accessed at www.prachatai2.info.”
The site was founded in 2004 – when the now deposed Thaksin Shinawatra was still prime minister – with the aim of being an alternative source of news. The news pages nowadays received more than 20,000 visitors a day while its forum receives about 30,000 visitors a day.
The curfew introduced by the Thai government on 19 May has been extended twice and is now due to remain in effect until 28 May. Since the start of the crisis, the CRES has closed more than 1,150 websites regarded as provocative.