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Spotlight on controversial cyber crime law as trial of webmaster underway

(SEAPA/IFEX) - 3 February 2011 - The trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, executive director and moderator of the independent news website Prachatai.com ( http://www.prachatai.com/english/ ), was scheduled to start on 4 February 2011. She faces 10 counts of violating the Computer Crime Act 2007 (CCA). This is the first time a webmaster is being tried under this act in Thailand.

The cases stemmed from accusations that Chiranuch violated Section 15 of the CCA when she was not able to take down immediately from the Prachatai web board a comment posted by a forum member on 15 October 2008. Authorities deemed the message to be defamatory of the monarchy.

She was arrested on 6 March 2009 at the Prachatai office and the police also confiscated her laptop and copied all its data as part of the investigation.

Nine more charges were filed against Chiranuch by the police on 7 April 2009. Police said these covered nine messages posted by members between April and August 2008. The case file was sent to the public prosecutor on 1 June 2009.

The public prosecutor filed 10 charges on 31 March 2010 against Chiranuch, each corresponding to the 10 forum topics posted at different times. However, even before she was arrested, all the offending messages had already been removed from the board.

Should Chiranuch be found guilty of the said charges, she faces a total of 50 years' imprisonment or a THB1 million fine (US$32,000). Section 15 provides the same penalty as the offenses described in Section 14 - imprisonment of not more than five years or a fine of not more than THB100,000 (US$3,200).

The prosecution was expected to present its witnesses on 4, 8, 9, and 10 February, while the defense's turn will be on 11, 15, 16, and 17 February.


BACKGROUND:

Prachatai is an independent online news site that mainly provides news on social, political, and human rights issues, and publishes interviews with, and articles by, academics, activists, human rights organisations, and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

It also hosts an online TV programme, "The Country Is Not Ours", an online radio programme, "Prachatai Radio", a blog service, "Blogazine", and formerly hosted an online forum, "Prachatai Webboard".

The Prachatai webboard was a popular site, indicated by the 250 new topics and 2,500 new comments per day in 2008, despite having only one full-time moderator and a number of volunteers.

During the declaration of the state of emergency following political clashes in 2010, the Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) used the Emergency Decree to censor websites and other media and Prachatai was among them, though the forum page was not blocked. Though the Emergency Decree was lifted in December 2010, the website remains blocked. Prachatai, in the intervening period, has put up a new website every time the government censored the current website.

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