Woman acquitted of lèse majesté for posting messages on Prachatai

The Supreme Court has dismissed charges against a woman accused of posting lèse majesté messages on the Prachatai web-board in 2008, citing inconclusive evidence.

At the Criminal Court of Bangkok, Ratchadaphisek Road, on Tuesday morning, 20 October 2015, the Supreme Court dismissed charges against Noppawan T under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law, and Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act, prohibiting the importation of illegal content into a computer system.

The acquitted was accused of using the username ‘Bento’ to post lèse majesté comments on the Prachatai web-board in 2008.  Noppawan was arrested on 30 Jan 2009, and was detained at the Central Women’s Detention Centre for about 10 days before being granted bail.  

The Supreme Court judges reasoned that from the IP address, which the prosecutors used as primary evidence, it cannot be proven that the suspect posted the lèse majesté messages because IP addresses can easily be faked.

Moreover, the court added that the defendant was arrested in a police raid, so she could not possibly have deleted the information. There was also no witness who could confirm that the defendant posted the messages. The defendant’s residence was a factory which had several computers with internet connections. Therefore, it was not known which one was used for the posting. Several employees could have used the computers.    

In 2011, the Court of First Instance dropped the case, citing the same reasons, thus giving her the benefit of the doubt. However, the Appeal Court in October 2013 overturned the decision of the Court of First Instance and sentenced Noppawan to five years in prison.

The Supreme Court had originally set 9 September 2015 as the date to read the verdict, but Noppawan failed to appear in court. Therefore, the Court decided to postpone the reading and issued an arrest warrant against her.

Her alleged offence was also used against Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the Director of Prachatai, who was accused of allowing 10 lèse majesté comments to be posted on the Prachatai web-board between April and November 2008.  Most of the comments were published on the web forum for 1-3 days, one for 11 days and one for 20 days before being taken down by Prachatai..

In November 2013, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the Court of First Instance in May 2012, to sentence Chiranuch to one year in prison and a fine of 30,000 baht, but since Chiranuch’s testimony was beneficial to the trial, the jail term was reduced to eight months and the fine was reduced to 20,000 baht. The jail term was suspended for one year.

The Court of Appeal’s judges then reasoned that it was convincing that the defendant had not consented to the nine comments that appeared on the forum for 1-11 days. However, the court was not convinced that the defendant was not aware of the comment which appeared for 20 days.

Given that the defendant was 41 years old at the time, had graduated from journalism school, and had worked in the media, she should have been aware that internet forums can be abused by criminals who use it to defame the monarchy, the judge said, adding that as a Thai citizen, Prachatai’s Director has a duty to protect the monarchy.

The lèse majesté case against Chiranuch is currently at the Supreme Court and will be finalised at the end of this year.