Thai webmaster Chiranuch loses appeal against suspended sentence

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 8, 2013

Thai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn has lost her appeal against her sentence for not deleting online comments deemed insulting to the monarchy quickly enough from the now defunct web board of the Thai news site Prachatai. The Criminal Court found her guilty in May 2012 and initially sentenced her to 1 year in prison, which was then reduced to an 8-month suspended sentence thanks to her testimony and a THB20,000 (US$630) fine.

The court stated that Chiranuch had failed to delete one comment for 20 days, whereas the other nine objected comments were deleted within 10 days, thus violating against Article 14 and 15 of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act which punishes “false data” that damages a third party, causes public panic or undermines the country’s security and “any service provider intentionally supporting” the said offenses, respectively – despite the fact that the court also states that the expectation to pre-emptively delete illegal comments was “unfair”.

On Friday morning, the Appeal Court turned down her appeal, essentially agreeing with the Criminal Court’s original verdict, adding that Chiranuch should have known better based on her professional experience:

This case highlights the flawed legal foundation: the Computer Crime Act (CCA), which became effective in 2007, is vaguely worded and leaves a lot of room for interpretation and thus also legal arbitrariness, which can be made worse in conjunction with the draconian lèse majesté law (which Chinranuch isn’t charged with in this case, by the way). A new version of the CCA is currently being drafted and already faces criticism by several Thai journalism associations (we will take a closer look at it in a future post).

Today’s ruling shows again the ambiguous legal situation not only for online users, but also for providers of online content platforms, as they can be held liable for the contents of others. In the context of free speech, it is a severe hindrance to open discussions especially on politically sensitive issues. The condescending remark by the judges that the defendant should have known that online platforms could be used “to defame the King” is a strong hint of the authority’s duty to protect the royal institution from any perceived danger, even if it means restricting online debates and online users have to censor themselves.