Court accepts Prachatai’s case against authorities for blocking its website in 2010

Prachatai’s case against the authorities for blocking its website during the red-shirt protests in 2010 has finally been accepted by the Civil Court, after the Court’s initial decision to dismiss the case was overturned by the Appeals Court.

On 23 April 2010, Prachatai filed a civil lawsuit against then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Deputy Prime Minister and Director of the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES) Suthep Thaugsuban, Minister of Information and Communication Technology Juti Krirerk, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology and the Ministry of Finance, demanding 350,000 baht in damages. 
 
The case was dismissed by the Civil Court on the same day.  Prachatai then appealed the court’s decision.
 
On 5 March 2013, the Appeals Court ruling, which was made on 8 Oct 2012, was read by the Civil Court.  
 
The Appeals Court has ruled that only the last two defendants, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology and the Ministry of Finance, can be sued in the case, citing Section 5 of the 1996 Liability of Authorities Act, which states that state agencies are liable to injured parties for any violations committed by their personnel in performing their duties, when the injured party can sue only the state agencies, but not individual personnel. 
 
The Civil Court has set 27 May 2013 for a preliminary hearing.
 
On 7 April 2010, the CRES, under the authority of the Emergency Decree, ordered the MICT to block 36 websites including www.prachatai.com, claiming that they had published information which might affect national security.
 
As a result, www.prachatai.com was not accessible as of 8 April 2010.  Prachatai then had to change its domain name several times to, for example, www.prachatai.info, www.prachatai1.info, www.prachatai2.info, and www.prachatai3.info to evade the blocking, and had to use social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter as alternative channels to reach its readers.
 
In its original complaint filed with the Civil Court in April 2010, Prachatai accused the CRES of violating the rights and freedoms accorded by the Constitution, arguing that despite the power authorized by the Emergency Decree, the government cannot take any action to limit, remove or violate the constitutional rights and freedoms of individuals on an arbitrary basis without any solid supporting evidence or reason. 
 
The defendants did not produce any evidence to justify their actions showing that Prachatai had published information which could lead to public panic, or distorted information which could lead to misunderstanding among the public about the emergency situation in such a way as to affect national security, public order or good morals.  The CRES also never notified or informed the complainant through any means about the reasons for the blocking, and never gave the complainant any opportunity to explain the facts, Prachatai said. 
 
The Civil Court dismissed the case on 23 April 2010 at 4.30 pm, citing that the first three defendants had performed their duties under a proper chain of command as authorized by the law, and the complainant could not seek compensation from the last two defendants.