Military presses computer crime charge against Lahu activist

A military officer in northern Thailand has sued a Lahu ethnic minority activist for posting a facebook video clip, saying that the clip defamed him and injured the honor of Thai military.       

On Tuesday, 2 February 2016, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), reported that the Provincial Court of the northern province of Chiang Mai from 2-4 February 2016 is holding a witness examination hearing on the case between Cap Panomsak Kantang, a military officer of Arunothai Military Post in Mana Subdistrict of Chiang Dao District and Maitree Charoensuepkun, Lahu activist and citizen journalist.

Panomsak on 4 January 2015 filed a complaint under Article 14 of the 2007 Computer Crime Act (importation of illegal content) against Maitree for posting a facebook clip allegedly containing false and defamatory contents against him and the Thai military.  

The clip was video record of a heated exchange between military officers and Lahu villagers of Kong Pak Ping Village, including Maitree, who on 1 January 2015 went to a local military post to ask the officers to identify soldiers who reportedly abused them physically.  

The villagers also demanded the officers to apologize them.

The clip was shared virally and posted on many facebook pages with criticisms against the Thai military after it was posted on Maitree facebook profile.

Many Lahu tribesmen and other also posted harsh criticisms against the Thai military on facebook upon seeing the video.  

TLHR reported that on 31 December 2014 at around 8:30 pm, five unidentified men some of whom were wearing military trousers and bulletproof vests abused and threatened them by slapping their faces and pointed pistols at them as they were gathering around the fire.

Eleven of them reportedly faced such abuse, including one elderly Lahu woman and three children.

When five military officers in uniform arrived at the scene, the unidentified men told the officers that there was a fight between teeagers from Lahu tribe and Tai tribe and that they were observing the incident.   

The next day when Lahu villagers reported about the abuses to military officers at a local army post, the officers told Lahu villagers that they do not know who were the abusers.

Dissatisfied with the answer, many Lahu villagers expressed anger and complainted at the officers.

Shortly after Cap Panomsak filed a complaint against Maitree, the prosecutors indicted Maitree under the Computer Crime Act on 7 May 2015. If found guilty, the Lahu activist could face up to five years imprisonment and fined up to 100,000 baht or both.  

During the deposition hearing on the case in August 2015, the Lahu activist denied all charges and testified that he only posted the video to call for justice for Lahu villagers.  

After the hearing, the plaintiff expressed that he wanted to reconcile with the activist, but later changed his mind, saying that his superior told him that the video clip tainted the honor of the Thai military.     

Despite the fact that he could face up to five years of jail term, Maitree pledges innocent, saying that he did nothing wrong and will fight the case until the end.

Maitree has been an active media activist advocating for rights and development of Lahu community especially that of Lahu children. He once joined media training with Friends Without Border (FWB), a civil society group advocating of child rights, and Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS).

Images from the video clip of a heated exchange between military officers and Lahu villagers on 1 January 2015, posted by Maitree