Charge over claim Suvarnabhumi Airport had no Covid-19 screening dismissed

The Criminal Court ruled on Thursday (25 November 2021) to dismiss the charge against Danai Usama, a graffiti artist from Phuket, who was charged with violation of the Computer Crimes Act for posting that he encountered no Covid-19 screening at Suvarnabhumi Airport after returning from Spain in March 2020.

Danai Usama (Picture from TLHR)

On 16 March 2020, Danai posted on his Facebook profile that he was not subjected to any Covid-19 screening process at the immigration checkpoint at Suvarnabhumi Airport after returning from Barcelona, Spain, which at the time was a Covid-19 hotspot. However, the photo he uploaded to show no screening activity was taken in 2019.

Danai was subsequently arrested at his gallery in Phuket on 23 March 2020, while undergoing 14-day self-quarantine. He was charged with putting into a computer system false computer data in a manner that is likely to cause panic in the public under Section 14 of the Computer Crimes Act, filed against him by the Airports of Thailand PCL.

The public prosecutor decided to indict him on 12 May 2020 on the grounds that the photo he used constituted false information as the airport at the time had deployed thermoscan machines and had officials in every area including the arrival hall, and that the false data might have misled the public and led to panic and loss of trust in the airport authorities.

The prosecutor also asked the court for a heavy sentence because the defendant committed the offence knowing that this false information on a popular social media platform like Facebook would lead to fast and widespread sharing. Posting such misleading information about an important national airport could cause widespread public confusion and panic.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported on Thursday (25 November 2021) that the Criminal Court ruled to dismiss the charge against Danai on the ground that the post was made according to what he encountered and that he did not intend to cause panic among the public or spread false information.

TLHR said that evidence presented to the Court included security camera footage showing Danai walking past a screening checkpoint without apparently noticing the temperature screening equipment. One witness said that the monitor showing the temperature scan result was turned towards the officers on duty.

Another witness said that the health screening measures at the time used a temperature scan camera to measure the body temperature of those who went through the checkpoint, and officers would take another reading from those who measured above 37.5 degree Celsius.

Danai also told the court that he read about the Covid-19 control measures at the time from a post on the Facebook page of the Thai Embassy in Madrid, made on 15 January 2020, which said that the screening would involve answering a questionnaire. It is therefore possible that he did not encounter an officer and did not see the thermoscan camera on arrival.

Regarding the photo, Dr Jenpon Thongyuen, an expert witness, said that it was widely used by the media when running stories about Suvarnabhumi Airport, while Danai said that he only used the photo to accompany the post.

After the ruling, Danai told TLHR said that, when he was arrested and charged, many people told him that he would lose the case. Some people also told him to confess, and he questioned how he could confess when he did nothing wrong and only posted about what he saw.

“Usually, if anyone does something good, I compliment them. If someone does something bad, I tell them off. Isn’t criticism normal? Even if it was my father, if he did something wrong, I’d call it out,” Danai said.

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