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AHRC's campaign on Chiranuch's case

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned that Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of Prachatai online newspaper, was detained by the immigration police at Suvarnabhumi Airport, in Samutprakarn province near Bangkok, and transferred to Khon Kaen police station, in northeastern Thailand. She has been charged with violating the Computer Crimes Act BE.2550 (2007) and Articles 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code BE.2499 (1956) (section of the code relating to lesè majesté).

CASE NARRATIVE:

On the afternoon of 24 September, 2010, Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of Prachatai online newspaper, was detained by the immigration police at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Ms. Chiranuch was on her way back from the 'Internet at Freedom 2010' conference in Hungary, sponsored by Google and the Central European University. After being detained by the immigration police, she learned that there were charges pending against her in Khon Kaen province, a province in the northeastern part of Thailand, and that the Khon Kaen police had a warrant for her arrest. She was driven by car to Khon Kaen, and then interrogated and formally charged by the police.

Ms. Chiranuch has been accused of violating Articles 14 and 15 of the Computer Crimes Act BE.2550 (2007) and Articles 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code BE.2499 (1956). She was informed that her case was reported to the Khon Kaen police station in 2009 regarding the lack of removal of 5 comments with alleged lesè majesté content. The comments were posted in response to an interview with Mr. Chotisak Onsoong, who has been charged with lesè majesté for not standing when the royal anthem was played before a movie was screened.

Shortly after 12 a.m. on 25 September 2010, Ms. Chiranuch was released on bail of 200,000 baht (6,525 USD). She will have to present herself again to the Khon Kaen police station on 24 October 2010.

The detention, arrest, and charging of Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn raise a number of questions about the current state of freedom expression, human rights and rule of law in Thailand. In this case, the arrest warrant was issued on 8 September 2010, but not executed until 24 September 2010. Ms. Chiranuch herself did not learn of the charges against her until she reached Khon Kaen. Ms. Chiranuch was informed by Pol.Lt.Col. Chachapong Pongsuwan, one of the officers who arrested her at Suvarnibhumi Airport that she had not been told about the charges in advance because the case against her was "a serious matter." The withholding of information signals the growing climate of fear for dissent in Thailand, in which one does not know that one has crossed a line until one is face-to-face with the police.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

In addition to this new case, Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn faces other changes as well. She was first formally charged with violating Article 14 of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act and with violating Articles 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code in March 2009. In March 2009, the police raided the Prachatai office and arrested her. By April 2009, she had been charged with 10 counts of alleged violations.  In each of these 10 instances, comments with alleged lesè majesté content were made on the Prachatai webboard. Ms. Chiranuch removed the comments, but her accusers have claimed that she did not do so quickly enough. If convicted, Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn is facing up to 50 years in prison for 10 counts of alleged violations of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act and the Criminal Code; each violation carries a sentence of five years.  The case trial will begin in February 2011. The first set of charges against her were unjust; the addition of the recent charges seems excessive.

As Thailand attempts to undergo a process of national reconciliation in the aftermath of the violence of April and May 2010, this latest constriction of speech and threat to human rights is of particular concern. Without the free and unobstructed flow of information, neither human rights nor the rule of law can be strengthened in Thailand. Without respect for human rights and the rule of law, the process of national reconciliation will also fall short of fostering accountability for violence.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) calls on all parties to closely follow Ms. Chiranuch’s case and to demand that the charges be dropped against her and all of those being held or investigated in relation to either Articles 14 and 15 the 2007 Computer Crimes Act or Articles 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code. The cases against her, in which she is being accused of crimes for not removing webboard comments with alleged lesè majesté content made by others quickly enough from the Prachatai webboard, represent a grave and sinister threat to what remains of free speech in Thailand. Free speech is a crucial aspect of the protection of human rights. Without the free and unobstructed flow of dissent and information, citizens cannot monitor and criticize their governments, and cannot disseminate information about the violation of the human rights of their fellow citizens.

For further information, see recent AHRC statements on the raid of independent news outlet Prachatai and the arrest of Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn (AHRC-STM-051-2009, AHRC-STM-054-2009), on lesè majesté and the Computer Crimes Act (AHRC-FPR-024-2009, AHRC-STM-028-2009, AHRC-STM-229-2009), and a statement of the Asian Legal Resource Centre to the UN Human Rights Council on the resurrection of the internal-security state in Thailand (ALRC-CWS-10-04-2009) and on wide-ranging restrictions on freedoms of expression (ALRC-CWS-14-06-2010). Also see the AHRC press release about how the shutdown of the Prachatai webboard indicates the shutdown of free speech in Thailand (AHRC-PRL-014-2010) (Also see a recent column on UPI Asia on the 2007 Computer Crimes Act. )

For further information on human rights issues in Thailand, see the 2008 country report of the AHRC and the AHRC Annual Report, The State of Human Rights in Ten Asian Nations 2009, especially pages 306 – 308.

For further information on charges, see Articles 14 and 15 of the Computer Crimes Act BE.2550 (2007) and Articles 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code BE.2499 (1956).

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write letters to the authorities listed below asking for the immediate withdrawal of the charges against Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn and the dropping of charges against all those being held or investigated in connection to either the 2007 Computer Crimes Act or Articles 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code.

To support this appeal, please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ___________,

THAILAND: Grave threat to freedom of expression and human rights in Thailand

Name of arrested person: Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn
Charges: Articles 14 and 15 of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act and Articles 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code
Charged by: Khon Kaen Police
Place: Suvarnabhumi Airport in Samut Prakarn province and Khon Kaen province
Date of incident: 24 September 2010.

I am writing to voice my strong objection to the charges made on 24 September 2010 against Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of Prachatai online newspaper. She was detained in the afternoon by the immigration police at Suvarnabhumi Airport when she was coming back from a seminar at Hungary. The immigration police informed her that there was a warrant for her arrest at the Khon Kaen police station. She was transferred to the Khon Kaen police station in the evening. The Khon Kaen investigation police charged her under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act and the Criminal Code. She was informed that someone reported to the police in 2009 that there were comments posted in response to an interview with Mr. Chotisak Onsoong with alleged lesè majesté content and she did not remove them from Prachatai website. She has denied these charges and was released on bail of 200,000 baht at midnight on the evening of 24 September.
 
This action is in direct contravention of the freedom of expression as set out in section 45 of the 2007 Constitution of Thailand and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a party.

I ask that you withdraw the charges against Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn without delay, since it violates national and international laws on freedom of expression. In addition, I ask that you drop all charges against others being held or investigated in relation to either the 2007 Computer Crimes Act or Articles 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code.

In making your decision, you need to consider Thailand's international obligations under the ICCPR. In this respect, I wish to remind you of an important section of the concluding observations of the UN Human Rights Committee to the report of Thailand in 2005:

"The Committee is concerned about reports of intimidation and harassment against local and foreign journalists and media personnel as well as of defamation suits against them, originating at the highest political level... The State party should take adequate measures to prevent further erosion of freedom of expression, in particular, threats to and harassment of media personnel and journalists, and ensure that such cases are investigated promptly and that suitable action is taken against those responsible, regardless of rank or status." (CCPR/CO/84/THA, 28 July 2005, para. 18).

I trust that you will take care to recall these recommendations before proceeding with this unnecessary and deeply problematic action. I further urge that the existing civil defamation law be reviewed to bring it into line with international standards. Until these changes take place, the people of Thailand will not feel free to speak, broadcast or publish their comments without fear of prosecution.

As Thailand attempts to undergo a process of national reconciliation in the aftermath of the violence of April and May 2010, this latest constriction of speech and threat to human rights is of particular concern. Without the free and unobstructed flow of information, neither human rights nor the rule of law can be strengthened in Thailand. Without respect for human rights and the rule of law, the process of national reconciliation will also fall short of fostering accountability for violence.

Yours sincerely,

---------------------
PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva
Prime Minister
c/o Government House
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit District
Bangkok 10300
THAILAND
Fax: +66 2 288 4000 ext. 4025
Tel: +66 2 288 4000
E-mail: spokesman@thaigov.go.th or abhisit@abhisit.org

2. Mr. Chaowarat Chanweerakul
Minister of Interior
Office of the Ministry of Interior
Atsadang Road, Ratchabophit
Pranakorn, Bangkok 10200
THAILAND
Fax: +66 2 226 4371/ 222 8866
Tel: +66 2 224 6320/ 6341
E-mail: om@moi.go.th

3. Mr. Peeraphan Saleeratwipak
Minister of Justice
Office of the Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Justice Building
22nd Floor Software Park Building,
Chaeng Wattana Road
Pakkred, Nonthaburi 11120
THAILAND
Fax: +662 502 6734 / 6884
Tel: +662 502 6776/ 8223
E-mail: om@moj.go.th

4. Mr. Kasit Piromya
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Office of the Minister of Foreign Affair
443 Sri Ayudhya Road
Bangkok 10400
THAILAND
Fax: +662 643 5318
Tel: +662 643 5333
E-mail: om@mof.go.th
 
5. Mr. Jullasingha Wasantasingha
Attorney General
Office of the Attorney General
Lukmuang Building, Nahuppei Road
Prabraromrachawang, Pranakorn,
Bangkok 10200
THAILAND
Fax: +662 224 0162/ 1448/ 221 0858
Tel: +662 224 1563/ 222 8121-30
E-mail: ag@ago.go.th or oag@ago.go.th

6. Pol.Gen. Wichean Potephosree
Royal Thai Police
1st Bldg, 7th Floor
Rama I, Patumwan
Bkk 10330
THAILAND
Fax: +66 2 251 5956/ 205 3738/ 255 1975-8
E-mail: feedback@police.go.th

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