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Chiranuch's speech on receiving Hellman/Hammett grant

I'm glad and honored that I'm selected to be one among 48 writers, journalists and activists from 24 countries to be awarded with the Hellmann Helmett award in 2011. I would like to thank the HH awarding committee and HRW for this award. Although this award is an individual award, for me this award is a price for the whole Prachatai team who worked hard and with enthusiasm and never despaired. I also would like to thank all the board-members of the Foundation for Community Educational Media who always  fully trusted and supported us.

Even though this award gives me support, and encourages me to face the threats on the rights & freedoms of expression which makes me grateful at the same time it also makes me feel sad. We can not deny that the significance of me being the first Thai who receives this award means that this is an indicator that the freedom of expression in this country has drastically declined since the 19 september 2006 coup. The main leaders of the new government in their expressions and public statements so far haven't shown any understanding or intention to reduce the problem of the violations of the freedom of expression. On the contrary, the trend seems to be even more worrying.

Many people wonder why the rights & freedoms are important. Why worry if the economy is doing well and your stomach is full … freedom doesn't feed you. Although that sentiment might be true and freedom doesn't immediately satisfy your hunger, for me freedom is like the air that I breath, you don't see it but you start missing it once there's not enough. And I believe that if we are in a situation where we are without enough air too long we will end up brain-dead. We don't live anymore, we vegetate. We ignore our dreams and our thoughts. That is not a life I would desire for myself.

But looking at freedom this way (as filling your stomach) might be a too utilitarian approach. In the end, freedom will bring innovation and creative ideas. We will learn from different ideas, learn the integrity of the diversity of information and knowledge. Moreover, freedom is a fundamental of a democratic society.  It helps people to determine their destiny, their way of life, the sadness, happiness and the values in their own life. And that includes the value that we don't accept inequality and exploitation. For me, the fact that 10% of the population can own 70-80% of Thailand's assets is unacceptable. When we talk about freedom, we also talk about democracy and the ability to provide equal access to resources.

And now for something completely different ….

The current problem of rights and freedoms in Thai society is in transition. I can see the constraints and challenges beginning with the undemocratic structures of society and politics. The military seizes the sovereignty from the people by intervening in politics and that accounts not only for the current officers. Thai media who should be the information providers and constitute a check & balance mechanism have already voluntarily surrendered to the existing state of affairs. Another constraint is the laws that violate rights & freedoms. Laws that allow the State special powers: Martial Law, the Internal Security Act & the   Emergency Decree. When the Government used the Emergency Decree for the crackdown on last years' protests, civil rights were already violated. Other laws are so-called 'obsolete' laws, like Article 112 (Criminal Code) and the Computer Crimes Act (2007) which was passed under the military-installed government after the 2006 coup.

Under this last law I have been charged and the case is now in Court. The prosecutor's witnesses have been heard and if we would try to recap these sessions then it seems that more important than the original charges brought against me, is the fact that if it can be proven that I intentionally left the comments of the Prachatai webboard longer than necessary. The law doesn't give any rules or regulations for what constitutes 'too long' neither are then any practical examples nor is there any existing jurisprudence. Another fact is that my case is only one among hundreds of people charged. Many of them have been denied basic rights like being released on bail. The increasing statistics of LM cases occurred during the most severe conflict in recent Thai history.

As an optimistic person I still hope that the limitations of freedom that caused people to feel that they don't have enough air to breathe can be a timely warning for them to learn and overcome this situation peacefully.