Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September 2014, 16:29 GMT

Thailand: Freedom of Expression On Trial

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 31 August 2011
Cite as Article 19, Thailand: Freedom of Expression On Trial, 31 August 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e6609cd2.html [accessed 24 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The trial of a well-respected online media editor and human rights activist, Chiranuch Premchaipron, will resume on 1st Sept 2011 in Bangkok's Criminal Court. Chiranuch is accused of allowing comments deemed offensive to the monarchy to be posted on the online forum she moderates. Tomorrow's trial is a testimony to the dire state of freedom of expression in Thailand. ARTICLE 19 calls for all charges against Chiranuch to be dropped.  

Chiranuch was arrested in March 2009 and charged in March 2010 for 10 violations on 10 different forum topics initiated by web visitors, each carrying a maximum prison term of 5 years. A limit on the maximum sentence meant that she can face up to 20 years in prison or fined 1 million Thai Baht (approximately US$33,400) if found guilty. The comments in questions were only online for under 20 days, and were all removed shortly after notification from the authorities.

Chiranuch was charged  under Section 15 of the Computer Crime Act 2007, which imposes liability on internet intermediaries "who intentionally supports or consents to the commission of an offence under Section 14," in this case lèse majesté offences. 

 "Chiranuch's trial is a litmus test for Thailand's tolerance of freedom of expression. Using a combination of lèse majesté and computer crime charges, the Thai authorities have created a climate of fear in which any form of debate around the lèse majesté law and the role of the royalty in Thai society is hushed or faces severe consequences," said Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

The political upheaval in Thailand following the military coup in 2006, has seen a surge of lèse majesté and Computer Crime Act charges, often used by politicians and government authorities to suppress their critics and political opponents. Thailand's National Human Rights Commission estimates that the number of lèse majesté cases increased nearly threefold from 164 in 2009 to more than 400 in 2010. Currently, there are reportedly 476 lèse majesté cases in legal process.

Under Article 112 of Thailand's Penal Code, lèse-majesté violation carries a maximum of fifteen years imprisonment if one is found guilty of defaming, insulting or threatening the King and his family. By providing special protection for the royalty, Thailand is in breach of international guarantees of freedom of expression, which require public figures to tolerate more, rather than less, criticism.

According to iLaw, a Thai organisation which monitors the Computer Crime Act, there have been around 180 cases in the past three years alone. While the CCA states that liability should only be imposed when the host is acting "affirmatively," in practice, its application has been one of strict liability in violation of international standards, as demonstrated by the charges brought against Chiranuch.

With the recent inauguration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, there is no sign of the new government softening its approach to lèse majesté, even though many of the ruling party Puea Thai's red-shirts supporters have been victims of lèse majesté during the previous administration. It is particularly worrying that the Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung publicly said on 26 Aug 2011 that taking action against websites containing content deemed insulting to the monarchy would be one of his top priorities. Between 2007 and 2010, Thailand has already blocked or suspended almost 75,000 websites, mostly under computer crimes legislation in relation to lèse-majesté.

For more information

  • In the first round of witness hearings in February 2011, 5 out of the 14 witnesses for Chiranuch Premchaipron case have been reviewed. The hearings of the remaining witnesses will take place over the next few weeks between September 2011 and October 2011.
  • In a separate case, Chiranuch was arrested by the police in Khon Kaen (more than 400km north of Bangkok) for lèse majesté, disrupting peace and Computer Crime Act violations after a local resident lodged a complaint regarding 5 comments on an article published on Prachatai website with alleged lèse majesté content. The case is pending the decision from the Police Ad Hoc Committee on Lèse Majesté whether to press charges against Chiranuch.
  • ARTICLE 19's submission to the Universal Period Review of Thailand in which the issues of the lèse majesté law and Computer Crime Act 2007 are discussed in-depth, can be found here.

Copyright notice: Copyright ARTICLE 19

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