MEDIA-THAILAND: Police Target Websites Unflattering to Royalty

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Mar 8 (IPS) – As if the country’s draconian lese-majeste laws are not harsh enough, Thailand’s thought police have another weapon, the computer crimes law, to curtail the space for free expression.

Friday saw a new low in this South-east Asian country when the police raided the Bangkok office of ‘Prachatai’, a popular alternative news website, to arrest its editor, Chiranuch Premchaiporn.

She was charged with violating article 15 of this law, which came into force in 2007, when the country was under the grip of a junta that had come to power after the September 2006 army coup.

Under that article, website moderators like Chiranuch face the threat of arrest if their websites have messages posted on them that are deemed to ‘’undermine national security’’ and are not removed immediately. Comments that tarnish the image of the country’s monarchy, an act of lese-majeste, are considered in similar light.

What triggered the arrest was a comment posted on the ‘Prachatai’ message board on Oct. 15 last year. The police accused the website of leaving that comment on its web board for 20 days. It was viewed as having a reference to the royal family.

‘’It was a long post (in Thai) with metaphors. The message was unclear if it was violating the lese-majeste law or not,’’ the 42-year-old Chiranuch, who was released on bail, told IPS.

‘’I was shocked when I learnt about the arrest warrant. I didn’t expect this,’’ revealed the editor of the website that was launched in 2004 to provide news and commentary that the mainstream print and broadcast media avoid.

‘’Her arrest has created tension in the Internet community in Thailand,’’ says Supinya Klangnarong, a media rights campaigner who heads the Thai Netizens Network, a group lobbying for the rights of Internet users. ‘’If Thai society cannot accept the free nature of Internet, we have a big problem.’’

‘’It is too much to raid the office and to force her to go to the police,’’ Supinya added during an IPS interview. ‘’We don’t want to see people put into jail for using the Internet.’’

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