Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of prachatai.com, an online newspaper, which is regarded by some as being pro-red and has been blocked since April, was arrested at Suvarnabhumi Airport last Friday on charges of lese majeste and violating the computer crime law over comments posted by other users. Upon returning from a seminar on cyber liberty in Hungary, she was driven straight to Khon Kaen province to face charges filed against her two years ago. She is now out on Bt200,000 bail and tells The Nation's Pravit Rojanaphruk about her ordeal. Here are some excerpts:
Were you surprised by the sudden arrest?
Very! I didn't know how it came about. I mean the arrest warrant is supposed to be have been out for more than a year now, but I had no knowledge of it. In fact, I travelled overseas a few times [after the warrant was supposedly issued]. I was stopped for five minutes on my way out [to Hungary] and told [by immigration police] that my name happened to be identical to someone on a wanted list. I travelled for five hours [to Khon Kaen] and by the time I got to Bangkok it was 10am the following day. I was worried I wouldn't get bail.
What do you make of the timing of your arrest and the fact that the charge was filed in Khon Kaen?
I cannot comprehend it or find an answer. I was never summoned despite the fact I am a registered citizen. Khon Kaen police told me they were not preparing to arrest me but had been contacted by immigration police about it.
What will you do next?
We'll have to see if the Office of the Attorney-General will forward the cases to court or not. My first [case for violating computer crime law] is already taking years. After getting bail, I have to travel to Khon Kaen once a month and it's a burden.
How has this affected your life?
I have doubts about the judicial process. In this case, if someone wants to hurt you, the person can lodge a police complaint in a far-flung province and the suspect has to travel far. This incurs real expenses.
Do you know the person who has pressed charges against you?
No, I have never met this person, though I have learned that he's a real-estate businessman based in Khon Kaen.
What's your view on the lese majeste law?
Many parties, including the government, admit that it is problematic but they have failed to prevent the abuse [of the law]. Anyone who wants to press charges can just do it. I was joking with someone that if the charges were filed in Narathiwat province [which is even farther], then I would have to travel there. Not that I have anything against Narathiwat.
What will you say if someone asked you about the state of freedom of expression in Thailand?
I think there's a problem with it. We must first review and reconsider the situation. There's a legal obstacle, a climate that hinders it and the new [online] media is a new culture that is being forced to become silent. The society is not very pleased about an open-exchange environment. They feel some control is needed.
Do you blame anyone about the case in particular?
I try not to be angry. We must also be fair to those who posted the comments. Nobody can tell whether it's defamatory or not except the court. If I'm upset at anything, it's the murky corners in Thai society where there is a lack of tolerance toward differing views and often resorts to any convenient means to shut people up. [PM] Abhisit [Vejjajiva] is perhaps in an uneasy situation, which is not particularly fun.