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SEAPA appeals to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to address deteriorating environment for free expression

(SEAPA/IFEX) - 4 October 2010 - In an open letter, SEAPA appealed to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva regarding the deteriorating environment for free expression in the country:

Your Excellency Abhisit Vejjajiva
Prime Minister
Thailand

Dear Sir:

We bring to your attention once again the deteriorating environment for free expression in Thailand, as demonstrated by the continuing misuse of Thailand's Computer-related Crime Act.

The recent arrest of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, Executive Director and Webmaster of the independent news website Prachatai.com, upon her arrival from a conference on Internet liberty in Hungary is the latest in a string of unreasonable and highly questionable acts in relation to the cybercrime law.

The three-year-old Computer-related Crime Act continues to be abused and as such undermines free speech and disallows even legitimate discourse on political reform in Thailand posted online.

Its vague provision on what constitutes security-related offenses and the wide-ranging powers this law bestows on authorities have been abused in the face of the lack of transparency and accountability of the law enforcers.

Ms. Chiranuch was arrested at the airport on charges of violating sections 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code and sections 14 and 15 of the Computer-related Crime Act based on a warrant issued more than a year ago. The complainant was a man in Khon Kaen province whose identity the police did not want to immediately reveal.

On top of this, Ms. Chiranuch is already facing 10 counts of violating sections 14 and 15 of the same Computer Crime Act, based on accusations that she failed, as Prachatai webmaster, to take down defamatory comments immediately.

We see the discrepancies between the avowed aim of the law and its current application, which you promised on several occasions to look into.

Mr. Prime Minister, the case of Ms. Chiranuch is only one of several that have happened under your supervision.

We hold you to your promise of giving Thais a latitude of freedom, especially freedom of expression, whether in the mainstream media or on the Internet. We are aware of the responsibilities inherent in such freedom and believe that offences should be dealt with in a proper legal manner and in a climate of political impartiality.

We ask you to give this controversial computer-related crime law your attention. The government's media reform initiative as part of the five-point roadmap to restore peace and political stability in Thailand will lack credibility without addressing these very issues.

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