On 30 May, the Criminal Court found Prachatai Director Chiranuch Premchaiporn guilty of allowing readers’ comments deemed offensive to the monarchy to remain on the Prachatai webboard for too long.
The court sentenced her to one year in prison and a fine of 30,000 baht, under Section 15 of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, but reduced the jail term to 8 months and the fine to 20,000 baht, citing her cooperation in the judicial process, and finally suspended the jail term for one year because ‘the defendant has never been convicted before and in order for the defendant to have the opportunity to become a good citizen of the country’.
According to the court verdict, Chiranuch had allowed the offensive comments to remain on the webboard mostly for 1-3 and 10 days, with one particular comment appearing up to 20 days.
The court said that such was enough time for the defendant to be aware of the comments and delete them, so this was considered neglect of duty and therefore by implication consent in committing a computer crime.
Regarding the defendant’s claim that the number of comments on the webboard had increased after the 2006 coup and the website had also put up more measures to deal with it, the court considered that the defendant had performed her duties, but that was not sufficient.
The court acknowledged that freedom of expression, as claimed by the defendant during trial, was important and upheld by all constitutions, and it reflected the good governance and democracy of a country. However, in promoting such freedom, the defendant must keep watch over comments which affect national security and respect the rights and freedom of other people as well, the court said.
The court said that Section 15 of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act did not specify any timeframe for service providers to deal with offensive comments and for authorities to give notification. Given the nature of posting comments on webboard which appear immediately prior to moderators’ consent, if service providers are to be considered complicit and be held responsible immediately, that would be unjust to them, but if they claim that they are not aware of such comments, denying any responsibility, this would go against the purpose of the law, the court said.
It was acceptable for the court to hear the defendant’s claim that she had not been aware of those comments which remained on the webboard for 1-3 and 10 days, but not for the one that remained for 20 days. So the court considered that the defendant intentionally consented to, or supported the commission of a crime.
After hearing the verdict, Chiranuch said that she was quite satisfied with the verdict which was reasonable. However, she would consult her lawyers on whether or not to appeal the case, as the conviction concerned a very important issue of how or whether ‘intermediaries’ or service providers should be held liable.