Thai webmaster convicted but avoids prison term
Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of the website Prachatai, has been convicted on one count of publishing comments that are insulting to the monarchy. A suspended prison sentence was imposed, meaning that she will escape jail - but will have to exercise serious self-censorship so as not to activate the sentence.
The Bangkok Criminal Court today delivered a guilty verdict in the trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of the news and current affairs site, Prachatai. She has been fined Thai Baht 20,000 (approximately 400 GBP) and sentenced to an eight-month jail sentence, which has been suspended.
Ms Premchaiporn had faced a sentence of twenty years in prison on ten counts of ‘insult’ to the monarchy, or lèse majesté, and the court showed some lenience in convicting her on only one count and suspending the prison sentence. Judge Kampol Rungrat based his guilty verdict on one particular post that was left on the Prachatai site for 20 days, which he considered too long.
Although MLDI welcomes the suspension of Chiranuch’s prison sentence, the guilty verdict sets a precedent for further prosecutions of website directors for third party content on their websites. In 2010 alone, as many as 40,000 websites were censored or removed under Thailand’s strict internet censorship laws.
Today's sentence is expected to lead to further self-censorship among directors of online news sites.
Peter Noorlander, Chief Executive of MLDI, which assisted the defence, commented that "while we welcome the fact that Chiranuch will not be serving time in prison, we deplore the verdict. A clear signal has been sent to the directors of all news and current affairs websites that they are being watched and that the authorities will not hesitate to prosecute them. This can only lead to significant self-censorship."
In recent years, Thailand’s lèse majesté laws in particular have been used to stifle political expression and dozens of people have been convicted to lengthy prison sentences. Only three weeks ago, an 62 year-old man convicted for sending SMS messages that insulted the monarchy – which he strenuously denied – died in prison while serving a 20 year sentence.