Today Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of independent Thai news site Prachatai.com, will go to trial on charges of lèse majesté and computer crimes. Chiranuch could face decades in jail.
Her alleged offence: that she failed to remove comments posted by readers on Prachatai’s forums with sufficient speed.
The content of the comments were deemed to defame the Thai royal family. Thailand’s strict lèse majesté laws have been used with increasing frequency in recent years – from an average of 2.5 charges per year in the 1980s to 164 in 2009, according to a study by academic David Streckfuss quoted in the Economist.
Though there may have been some small increase in republican sentiment in a population that for the most part holds the king as beyond reproach, it is widely believed that lèse majesté allegations are being used for political reasons. Prachatai, with a clear remit of speaking truth to power, is not loved by the current government.
Thailand’s 2007 Computer Crimes Act is thought by many to be deployed likewise as a way to curb dissent. Some 75,000 web pages have been blocked using the act, usually in conjunction with lèse majesté accusations. Thai press freedom advocate Supinya Klangnarong told AP this week: “The Thai state has been intensely using the act as political punishment, instead of curbing actual computer-related crimes.”
Today’s high-profile case, involving an internationally recognised journalist who was not even author of the offending remarks, is likely to prove a yardstick of the country’s commitment to press freedom and the disinterested application of justice.