(Hong Kong, March 8, 2011) Two United Nations experts have sent “a letter of allegation” concerning the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the webmaster on trial in Bangkok for charges of lese-majesty and computer crime, one has revealed in a new report.
According to the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekkaggya in her annual report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, she sent the letter together with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, on October 1, 2010.
The February 28 report quotes a reply from the government of Thailand that the case was brought on the basis that “views that are disrespectful of the monarchy, or advocate hatred or hostile feelings towards this important national institution, or those which incite hatred or violence are generally unacceptable in the Thai society”.
In a second letter sent in February, the government asked the U.N. rights experts “not to prejudge the decision” of the court hearing the case.
Wong Kai Shing, executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, welcomed the U.N. experts’ intervention and said that it showed that the case is attracting more and more interest globally, because people around the world are concerned about the use of Thailand’s draconian lese-majesty and computer crime laws to stifle legitimate debate.
“The intervention of the experts and the responses of the government show that this case is gaining an international profile,” Wong, who is attending the current session of the council, said.
“What the government has missed completely in its replies to the U.N. experts is that Chiranuch never expressed any views for which it could justify putting her on trial in the first place,” Wong continued.
The police charged Chiranuch not because of anything that she did or said herself but for comments posted on her independent news website, Prachatai, by users. She has been held criminally liable as the site administrator.
The Bangkok-based Internet news site has since been forced to close its web board because of fears that it or its users could be subject to further criminal actions.
“At a time that the representative of Thailand to the Human Rights Council is holding the council’s presidency, it is highly embarrassing that his government is prosecuting someone for speech and computer offences that she did not commit,” Wong said.
“The case cannot in any way be justified in terms of international law. The AHRC also completely rejects the government’s arguments that it can be justified on particular cultural or national grounds,” he continued.
“The public prosecutor must withdraw the case,” Wong added.
In January and February the AHRC sent observers to the initial hearings in the trial of Chiranuch. It is also closely following the use of the lese-majesty and computer crime laws in other cases related to freedom of expression in Thailand.
A daily diary of the hearings in Chiranuch’s case prepared by Freedom Against Censorship-Thailand, is available along with other information about the case on a special webpage on the case set up by the Hong Kong-based regional human rights group: http://www.humanrights.asia/campaigns/chiranuch-prachatai.
An extract from the report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders follows.
Extract from report of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekkaggya: Summary of cases transmitted to Governments and replies received
(A/HRC/16/44/Add. 1; dated 28 February 2011, available online at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/16session/A.HRC.16.44.Add.1_EFSonly.pdf)
Letter of allegations
2228. On 1 October 2010, the Special Rapporteur, together with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, sent a letter of allegation concerning numerous arrests of and charges against Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, editor of Prachatai, an online media portal that contains news, opinion and a discussion forum, for comments posted by readers on the website. Ms. Premchaiporn is also an advocate for freedom of expression and freedom of the media and is actively involved in the “Citizen Net” network which monitors the state of censorship in Thailand.
2229. According to information received, on 6 March 2009, Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, also known as Jiew, was arrested on the basis of a warrant alleging that she violated articles 14(1), 14(3), 14(5) and 15 of the Computer Crimes Act for having allowed readers to post comments on Prachatai’s online discussion forum that allegedly defamed the King of Thailand. On 31 March 2010, she was arrested again for the same alleged offence, but with the additional charge of violating the lèse majesté provision of the Criminal Code (article 112).
2230. On 24 September 2010, Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn was arrested at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok upon returning from her trip to Lithuania and Hungary, where she participated in the Internet Governance Forum organized by the United Nations and a conference on Internet freedom organized by Google and the Central European University respectively. At passport control, immigration officers allegedly took her to the immigration office for questioning for two hours, after which she was transported in a police car to Khon Kaen police station, located approximately 450 kilometres from Bangkok. She was allegedly shown an arrest warrant relating to material posted on the Prachatai website in April 2008 which, according to the warrant, violated the same provisions as those listed in the previous warrants.
2231. On 25 September 2010 at approximately 1:00 a.m., Ms. Premchaiporn was released on bail after paying a 200,000 baht fine (approximately USD 6,500). She was required to report to the Khon Khaen Muang district police station every month. Her next mandatory visit to the police station was scheduled on 24 October 2010. Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn was awaiting trial for the charges mentioned above, which in total could lead to a 50-year prison sentence.
Responses from the Government
2232. In a letter dated 6 October 2010, the Government responded to the communication sent on 1 October 2010 as follows. It is informed that the above-mentioned matter has been duly forwarded to the concerned authorities for further examination. Thailand, as an open society, upholds the people’s right to freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by the Constitution. The exercise of such rights, however, must bear in mind considerations regarding national stability and social harmony. Importantly, it has to be in accordance with the law and viewed in a societal context. Views that are disrespectful of the monarchy, or advocate hatred or hostile feelings towards this important national institution, or those which incite hatred or violence are generally unacceptable in the Thai society.
2233. In fact, article 19 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that the exercise of freedom of expression “carries with it special duties and responsibilities” and the exercise of this right “may therefore be subject to certain restrictions but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary for respect of the rights and reputation of others”. In this regard, the legal proceedings against Ms. Pemchaiporn are in accordance with Thai law. Furthermore, Ms. Pemchaiporn has been and will be accorded due process as provided by the Thai Criminal Code, including the right to fair trial, due opportunity to contest the charges and assistance from her lawyer.
2234. In another letter dated 17 February 2011, the Government informed that the Court has not yet ruled on the case of Ms. Premchaiporn, and further witness hearings are scheduled in September 2011. Therefore, it is important not to prejudge the decision of the Court at this stage. Ms. Premchaiporn has been freed on bail.