Thai web forum host facing 50 years in prison as authorities prosecute censorship law violations

By Michael I. Niman
Special to Daily Censored
Februrary 28th 2011

Chiranuch Premchaiporn manages Thailand’s independent alternative news website Prachatai.com. In 2008, one or more unidentified readers posted comments to Prachatai’s online forum which, according to prosecutors who presented the case in court last week, violated Thailand’s Computer Crime Act of 2007.  More specifically, the posts used the Internet to violate Thailand’s Lese Majeste article in the Thai constitution, which states, “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” Since Prachatai hosted nine posts that prosecutors allege violate this edict, Premchaiporn is facing nine counts for managing the site.

Putting aside, for the moment, the censorship issues involved with such a draconian law against civic discourse, the prosecution of Premchaiporn is particularly chilling since she herself, never violated the Lese Majeste statute, and is not specifically charged with writing or saying anything that could have violated the statute. Premchaiporn, in fact, in compliance with the law, actually censored the posts herself, removing them from the Prachatai discussion board. She did this before  any government action against Prachatai. Despite this, and the fact that three of the deleted posts were apparently discovered, not online, but in a forensic inspection of her seized computer, she was still charged, since she did not censor the offending posts quickly enough to please censors at Thailand’s Ministry of Information and Computer Technology (MICT), the Thai bureaucracy apparently charged with preventing computer technology to be freely used to spread information.

It gets stranger.  MICT regulation bureau chief Aree Jivorarak, testifying at Premchaiporn’s trial, argued that Lese Majeste edicts apply not only to outright defamation of the royal family, but to any reference or allusion to the royal family.  In the case of the Prachatai discussion board posts, he argued that select pronouns, rather than direct or named references, alluded to members of the royal family. Hence, the logic seems, Premchaiporn, by not recognizing  that a pejoritive pronoun must allude to the royals, and removing the post with the offending allusion  immediately, as in yesterday, is guilty of Lese Majeste. It’s uncertain what these pronouns might be, however, since reporting them in the press could also be a violation of Lese Majeste.

Furthermore, a second prosecution witness argued that even reporting on factual accounts regarding activities of members of the royal family, would violate Lese Majeste, even if there is no charge of defamation – this despite the intent of the law specifically to censor defamation or threats. In this case, the posting of a message discussing the Queen’s attendance at a funeral, somehow was a violation of an apparently growing definition of Lese Majeste.

The prosecution presented witness testimony against Premchaiporn for five days earlier this month, ending on February 11th.  The case is currently being postponed until September of this year, when the prosecution will be given another eight days to finish presenting their case.  The defense will be allowed four days in October to respond.

Michael I. Niman, Ph.D. is a professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College in New York. His previous columns and articles are archived at mediastudy.com/articles and available globally through syndication.