Thailand Convicts Web Editor in Free Speech Case

Posted May 30th, 2012 at 3:40 am (UTC-5)
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A Thai court has convicted a website editor on computer crimes charges for failing to act quickly enough to remove online comments that were deemed offensive to the country's monarchy.

The Bangkok Criminal Court on Wednesday gave an eight-month suspended jail sentence to Chiranuch Premchaiporn for not respecting a court order to promptly remove the comments made by other people from her popular news website, Prachatai.

Judge Kampol Rungrat told the court that the comments caused “damage to the reputation of the king, queen and heir-apparent” and the failure to remove them was therefore a violation of the controversial Computer Crimes Act.

Chiranuch, who was also fined $630, was originally given a one-year jail term. But it was reduced to eight months and suspended because she co-operated with the court.

Her sentence is considered by some to be lenient, since she faced up to 20 years in prison for the charges.

But Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the conviction “adds to the climate of fear and self-censorship” in Thailand's media.

The New York-based group said holding Internet service providers liable for user comments is a “particularly pernicious practice,” that effectively turns webmasters into “enforcers and censors for the government.”

Thailand has the toughest laws in the world criminalizing lese majeste – insults to the country's king, queen, or crown prince.

Earlier this month, a 61-year-old Thai grandfather died in prison after being convicted of sending four “inappropriate” text messages to a government official. He denied the charges, saying he did not even know how to send text messages.

Thailand's 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is widely revered by Thais as a unifying figure in the politically polarized nation, and talks of removing the laws have proven too contentious.