Reporters Without Borders is very disturbed by the unprecedented harassment of Chiranuch Premchaipoen, the editor of the Prachatai news website. Detained at Bangkok airport on 24 September, on her return from an international conference (http://en.rsf.org/thailand-news-website-editor-arrested-on-24-09-2010,38440.html), she has been told she was arrested on a warrant issued in the northeastern city of Khon Kaen in September 2009 in response to an April 2008 complaint about comments posted on the website.
If prosecuted on all the charges currently registered in connection with the complaint, she could be facing up to 32 years in prison. At the same time, she is facing a possible 50-year sentence in a connection with an earlier, very similar, case.
Chiranuch Premchaipoen was released on the night of 24 September after paying 200,000 bahts (4,800 euros) in bail but she must now report every month to the police in Khon Kaen, 400 km from her Bangkok home. Her next appointment with the Khon Kaen police has been set for 24 October.
“The way the Thai authorities are behaving towards Chiranuch is unacceptable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The judicial system will be completely discredited if all the charges against her are not dropped. She is being treated like a criminal although she is regarded internationally as an expert in online journalism. Why was she arrested now on a complaint that is more than two years old?”
The press freedom organisation added: “If you add up the maximum sentences applicable to all the various charges pending against her in these two cases, you get the absurd figure of 82 years in prison. This is worthy of a country like Burma. It shows that the degree of determination to persecute Chiranuch and the flaws of Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws.”
Chiranuch’s latest arrest was in response to a complaint filed on 28 April 2008 by Khon Kaen resident Syunimit Chirasuk about comments posted on Prachatai about its interview with Chotisak Onsoong, a person who was charged with lèse-majesté for refusing to stand when the national anthem was played in a cinema.
As the site’s editor, Chiranuch is charged with “defaming, insulting or threatening the king and royal family” (article 112 of the criminal code), “public statements inciting unrest (article 116) and “supporting or being responsible for crimes linked to the use of computers” (articles 14 and 15 of the Computer Crime Act).
Chiranuch was arrested on her return from a conference entitled “Internet at Liberty 2010” which Google and the Central European University organised in Budapest from 20 to 22 September. Hundreds of bloggers of more than 70 nationalities took part. She was briefly detained by immigration officials at Bangkok airport as she was about to leave for the conference.
The news that she was arrested again on her return triggered a wave of international condemnation by bloggers, journalists, NGOs and diplomats that was relayed on social networks including Facebook and Twitter (#freejiew). Chiranuch said she thought this wave of support was responsible for her release later the same day.
Chiranuch was previously arrested under the Computer Crimes Act and lèse majesté laws on 31 March, when she was released within a few hours on 300,000 bahts (7,000 euros) in bail. In this earlier case, she is facing up to 50 years in prison for failing to remove around 10 comments from the site with sufficient speed. Posted by visitors in 2008 and quickly removed by Chiranuch after she was alerted, the comments were deemed to have insulted the monarchy.
Thailand was listed as one of the “Countries under Surveillance” in the report on “Enemies of the Internet that Reporters Without Borders released on 11 March.
To help Chiranuch cover her bail payment, you can make a donation at http://digitaldemocracy.chipin.com/free-jiew.