Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Another Lese Majeste Case in Thailand

The Thai government has shown no signs of letting up on its campaign to shut down opposition websites. The latest is a ruling by the country’s Criminal Court sentencing web designer Thantawut Thaweewarodomkul to 13 years in prison, 10 of them for lèse majesté and three for violation of the country’s stiff computer crime laws.

The February release on bail by Thailand's Criminal Court of seven detained leaders of the anti-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) -- the Red Shirt movement – was regarded by observers as a move to ease tensions in advance of elections scheduled for May.

However, the government continues to go after bloggers and those who stick their heads up too high. For instance, just hours before the seven Red Shirt leaders were released, Surachai Danwattananusorn, leader of a splinter group called "Red Siam," was arrested for remarks made in December that have been deemed offensive to the monarchy.

The website Political Prisoners in Thailand estimates that the country’s computer crimes law has been used against more than 300 offenders since 2006, when the military, in a royalist coup, ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The respected blogger Bangkok Pundit has compiled a list of offenders since 2006. They are contained in tables at the bottom of this article.

Two weeks ago, the same court that granted the Red Shirt leaders bail agreed with an appeal against the lèse-majesté sentence of Daranee Chanchoengsilpakul, better-known as "Da Torpedo," who was jailed in August 2009 for insulting Thailand's monarchy. Her case has been moved to the Constitutional Court after the original proceedings were deemed a mistrial.

Thantawut, the designer of a website titled “NorPorChor USA,” was arrested on Apr. 1, 2010 and has been held without bail since that time. He was sentenced for posting messages deemed to be offensive to Thailand’s royal family.

Thanthawut’s lawyers argued that in fact he had only designed the site and had nothing to do with what was posted on it. However, according to the Thai website Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT): “Tantawut’s real crime was living in Thailand, making him an easy target, unlike NorPhorChor’s real webmasters who all lived overseas. After all, someone needed to be punished to send a clear message to Thai netizens not to cross the imaginary lèse majesté line. 98 percent of those charged with lèse majesté in Thailand are convicted simply because of blind justice. As he sought to prove his innocence, even after 10 months in jail without bail, rather than cave in and plead guilty.”

Thai police alleged that three offensive comments were posted on the site on March 1 and 13 last year, and that an address belonging to Thanthawut was connected to the website.

Defense lawyers sought bail for Thanthawut with Bt1.3 million baht (around US$41,000), as was informed by court officials. However, the court later told the lawyer to submit the bail request with the Appeals Court instead.

Anon Nampa, the lawyer, said that he did not understand why this was to be decided by the Appeals Court, as the Court of First Instance always has the authority to do so. As a result, it will take a few more days to know whether Thanthawut will get bailed or not.

The list made available by Bangkok Pundit follows, made available to him by researchers who compiled the information from the Annual Statistical Yearbook of the Office of the Judiciary:
Source Asia Sentinel

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