Web-board posters ‘Praya Pichai' and ‘Ton Chan' appeared at Bangkok's Criminal Court on Friday Oct 12, and were told by the court that the prosecution had yet to proceed with the case.
Prachatai manager Chiranuch Premchaiporn has been monitoring the case and said that both persons were due to report to the court as their custody had expired and the prosecution was obliged to file the lawsuit with the court within that day. But they were notified by court officials that the prosecution had not proceeded with the case, so in effect their case was dropped, though only temporarily as the statute of limitations is 10 years. That means the case can be re-opened at any time, Chiranuch said.
Chiranuch went to the court with Supinya Klangnarong of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform and noticed that the accused were secretly followed by some men, which seemed to explain the apparent reticence of the accused. Chiranuch said she was even suspicious that she herself was being followed when she left the court.
The two accused persons were quietly arrested on Aug 24 under Article 14 of the new Computer Crime Act. The man who the police believed to use the alias Praya Pichai was released on bail on Sept 6, and the woman believed to be Ton Chan was bailed on Sept 17, reportedly by the authorities themselves.
Secretive law enforcement builds climate of fear
CPMR secretary-general Supinya said that this case was very disturbing. The arrests were made soon after the new cyber crime law took effect [in mid-July]. The authorities might have thought that they could handle the case quietly, but it had alerted many people, including international rights advocates. That might have reminded the authorities of their illegitimate actions which included unlawful arrests and obscure legal processes afterwards.
"Who is to take the responsibility for the infringement of both people's rights during the weeks of detention? And the charges will still remain valid for 10 years," said Supinya, adding that she was glad on the one hand [for the case being dropped], but was still disturbed by the abuse of the law with the surreptitious execution which aimed to frighten the people.
"That creates a climate of fear, and demonstrates the obscure rule of law," she said.
However, Supinya took note of the alertness of internet community members in posting messages, building blogs, spreading e-mails, and even attempting to raise funds to help the accused.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right; defamation law would suffice
Supinya believes that freedom of expression in the cyber world will be more cherished, and the people will want to express their views, despite the suppression. The defamation law alone is sufficient. It is not right to ban what people think, she said.
However, she said that what is immediately needed is to keep vigilant and provide support for possible future cases including legal and financial assistance as well as steady media coverage.
The state should drop Big Brother attitude; this is not a crime.
Supinya said with the new Computer Crime Act the authorities were confused and unable to tell what was a crime from what was not.
"To develop weblogs and websites, download files, post comments, and share information are considered rights and freedoms in the democratic world, while computer crimes are spreading computer viruses and stealing personal information like credit card numbers. This must be made clear. Since the law took effect, the authorities have never talked about credit card fraud or virus propagation, and instead keeping watching who wrote what," she said.
Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act says that "whoever commits the following offences, shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding five years and fine not exceeding one hundred thousand baht or both: 1) input, into computer systems, of forged computer data in whole or in part or false computer data in a manner likely to cause injury to another person or the public; 2) input, into computer systems, of false computer data in a manner likely to cause injury to national security or panic to the public."
Reference: Thai Act on Computer Crime B.E.2550 (2007)