Chiranuch Premchaipoen, the editor of the news website Prachatai, was arrested today at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport on her return from a conference on Internet freedom in Budapest. Police showed her a warrant issued by a court in the northwestern province of Khon Kaen accusing her of defaming the royal family and of violating articles 14 and 15 of the Computer Crimes Act and article 112 of the criminal code.
Reached by mobile phone, Chiranuch said she was being transported in a police car that was heading in the direction of Khon Kaen province. The warrant was issued in response to a complaint filed by Khon Kaen resident Sunimit Chirasuk on 11 August 2008.
“We call for Chiranuch’s immediate release and the withdrawal of the charges against her so that we do not have to witness another attempt to exploit the Computer Crimes Act to silence the regime’s critics,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Prachatai is a reliable source of news and information that has managed in recent months to keep the public informed about what is going on in Thailand.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The authorities should take note of the fact that Prachatai decided to close down its forum because of the difficulty of controlling the comments posted on it. This arrest is all the more inadmissible for being very badly timed. Chiranuch was returning from an international conference on online free expression, to which she had been invited.”
Also known as Jiew, Chiranuch had just attended a conference entitled “Internet at Liberty 2010” which Google and the Central European University organised in Budapest from 20 to 22 September. Hundreds of bloggers of more than 70 nationalities took part.
Chiranuch was briefly detained by immigration officials in Bangkok as she was about to leave for the conference. One of the police officers responsible for arresting her on her return, Chachapong Pongsuwan, said it was normal that she had not been notified in advance because it was “a serious matter.”
Chiranuch was previously arrested on similar charges on 31 March. On that occasion, she was released after three and a half hours when her sister acted as guarantor for the payment of 300,000 bahts (7,000 euros) in bail. She is still facing up to 50 years in prison under the Computer Crimes Act and lèse majesté laws for failing to remove comments from the site with sufficient speed. Posted by visitors in 2008 and removed by Chiranuch after she was alerted, the comments were deemed to have insulted the monarchy.
Thailand was listed as one of the “Countries under Surveillance” in the report on “Enemies of the Internet which Reporters Without Borders released on 11 March.