Military loses in defamation lawsuit against Lahu activist

Chiang Mai Provincial Court has dismissed charges against a Lahu ethnic minority activist accused of posting a video clip defaming the Thai military.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the Provincial Court of Chiang Mai on Tuesday, 8 March 2016, dismissed charges against Maitree Chamroensuksakul, a Lahu activist and citizen journalist, indicted for offences under Article 14 of the 2007 Computer Crime Code (importation of illegal internet content).

Maitree was indicted under the Computer Crime Act in May 2015 for posting a Facebook clip allegedly containing false and defamatory contents against Capt Panomsak Kantang, a military officer of Arunothai Military Post in Mae Na Subdistrict of Chiang Dao District.

The officer filed a complaint against Maitree in January 2015, alleging that Maitree defamed him and also the Thai military.

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

The court reasoned that from the testimony of five witnesses, including children and elderly members of the Lahu community, it does not appear that the video clip contained false information.

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 villagers by slapping their faces and pointing pistols at them as they were gathering around a fire.

Eleven 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 had been a fight between Lahu and Tai teenagers and that they were observing the incident.   

The next day when Lahu villagers reported the abuses to military officers at the local army post, the officers told them that they do not know who the abusers were. Dissatisfied with the answer, many Lahu villagers expressed anger and complained to the officers.

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 said 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 honour of the Thai military.     

Despite the fact that he could face up to five years in jail, Maitree pleaded innocent, saying that he did nothing wrong and would fight the case until the end.

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

Maitree Chamroensuksakul, a Lahu activist and citizen journalist (Photo from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights)