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Computer Crimes Act and the Ramifications for Free Speech in Thailand

Chiranuch Premchaiporn may spend decades of her life in a Bangkok prison because she failed to remove anti-monarchy comments made by anonymous posters on the Prachatai website. The case, which is the first to use the 2007 Computer Crimes Act to hold a webmaster responsible for content, poses one of the biggest tests ever for Internet freedom in Thailand.

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Chiranuch Premchaiporn may spend decades of her life in a Bangkok prison because she failed to remove anti-monarchy comments made by anonymous posters on the Prachatai website. The case, which is the first to use the 2007 Computer Crimes Act to hold a webmaster responsible for content, poses one of the biggest tests ever for Internet freedom in Thailand.

As Facebook, Twitter and other websites increase the space for political dissent around the globe, governments have sought new legal remedies to keep them in check. Free speech advocacy group Reporters Without Borders last year deemed Thailand “under surveillance” to join 12 Enemies of the Internet, including Egypt, Burma, North Korea and China. Overall, the government took down 44,000 web addresses in 2010, including Prachatai, mostly for publishing anti-royal content, according to Thailand’s iLaw Project.

What exactly is allowed under the Computer Crimes Act? How does the law compare with similar ones around the world? What consequences will Chiranuch’s case have for free speech in Thailand?

To discuss these pivotal issues, we welcome a panel of media law experts. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a US-based media freedom group, will also present 2010 Attacks on the Press, an annual worldwide survey.

Speakers include:

– Danny O’Brien is CPJ’s Internet Advocacy Coordinator. He has spent
over 20 years documenting and explaining the growth of the Internet and new media and its effect on free expression and society. He has written articles for Wired, New Scientist, The Guardian, and TV shows for the BBC. Prior to joining CPJ last year, O’Brien was International activist for the original Internet freedom organization, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and was a founder of the British pressure group, the Open Rights Group. He is based in San Francisco.

– Supinya Klangnarong is a Thai media rights advocate and current vice-chair of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform (CPMR). She is noted for her long-running advocacy of media reform, and memorably the target of a lawsuit by Shin Corp asking for 400 million Baht in damages over comments she made in a 2003 interview  charges on which she was acquitted in a resounding personal vindication in 2006.

– Sinfah Tunsarawuth is the director of the Thai Media Law & Policy Center, a group sponsored by the Press Council of Thailand, the Thai Journalists Association and other local media groups. He is an independent media lawyer and journalist who wrote an analysis of the Computer Crimes Act last year for the Centre for Law and Democracy, a Canada-based international human rights NGO.

Policing the WebA Panel Discussion on the Computer Crimes Act and the Ramifications

for Free Speech in Thailand

8pm, Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand
Penthouse, Maneeya Center Building
518/5 Ploenchit Road (connected to the BTS Skytrain Chitlom station)
Patumwan, Bangkok 10330
Tel.: 02-652-0580-1
Fax: 02-652-0582

Chiranuch’s case has put a spotlight on the CCA’s many vague and draconian provisions. Before today’s hearings, in meetings and seminars, freedom of expression advocates here have argued that the CCA’s national security related provisions are ill-defined and by passing liability to intermediaries represents a threat to Internet freedom. (Prachataisuspended all of its online forums in July 2010.)

Under cross-examination at today’s trial, Aree admitted that his MICT did not have institutionalized rules and regulations for determining and investigating comment-based computer crimes and that they were typically agreed to by a special committee of officials from different ministries and agencies, including the National Security Council and the military, appointed by the prime minister.

The case is the first to use the CCA’s Section 15 against a webmaster. People close to Chiranuch’s legal defense point to recent court decisions they believe could work in her favor. On January 31, a Thai court ruled in favor of a woman accused of posting anti-royal messages onto a Prachatai board due to lack of evidence.  A similar CCA Section 15 case against another Thai site, Pantip, was thrown out on December 29.

At the same time, Chiranuch’s trial is being held amid a vigorous government clampdown on the Internet, with a sharp focus on shutting down materials deemed critical of the monarchy. In a December report, Thailand’s iLaw Project said the government ordered 38,868 websites and Web pages blocked in 2010 for publishing anti-royal content. Overall, the government took down 44,000 web addresses, including Prachatai, during 2010, the group said.

Amnesty International ask authorities to drop all charges against Chiranuch Premchaiporn

The Thai authorities should drop all charges against human rights defender and web forum moderator Chiranuch Premchaiporn, whose trial continues this week, Amnesty International said today.

Chiranuch, the Executive Director of the online newspaper and web forum Prachatai  (“Thai People”), has been accused of not removing quickly enough from the web forum a user’s comments deemed offensive to Thailand’s monarchy—a criminal offense under Thai law.

“Chiranuch should not be in the dock,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s Thailand specialist.  “The comments for which she is being held responsible should not be prohibited in the first place—much less when they are posted by someone else.”

She has been charged under Articles 14 and 15 of the Computer-related Crimes Act of 2007, which covers the liability of online intermediaries, including internet service providers (ISPs) and website moderators.  The articles relate to supporting or consenting to an offence implicating Thailand’s national security within a computer system under one’s control.

“Chiranuch’s arrest and trial reveal how far the Thai government is willing to go toward silencing unpopular or dissident views,” said Benjamin Zawacki.

Arrested and charged in March and April 2009 for comments posted on Prachatai  between April and August 2008, Chiranuch is accused of 10 different violations, each of which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.  Prachatai estimates that in 2008, 2,500 new comments were posted each day on the site, with Chiranuch as the sole full-time moderator.

The comments in question remained on the board for between one and 20 days.  The person who allegedly posted the comments was acquitted last month in a case against her.

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