The lèse majesté trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, webmaster of Thailand’s independent online news portal Prachatai resumed at Bangkok’s Criminal Court after a hiatus of nearly seven months. The first five days of trial were held February 7 to 11. However, Chiranuch’s case was postponed when it became obvious the trial would take longer than the two weeks scheduled to hear testimony from 14 witnesses each for both prosecution and defence.
The morning hearing was held in one of the smallest courtrooms with a standing-room capacity crowd of around 50 supporters from local and int’l NGOs, media and diplomats from several Western embassies.
The sixth day of Chiranuch’s trial was held before a completely new single judge, The Honourable Kampot Rungrat, and a new public prosecutor. Previous testimony had been heard by a panel of three judges. It is somewhat worrying, at least to the untrained observer, to have lack of continuity in such an important trial. Another lawyer, who defended the lèse majesté case of Tantawut Taweewarodomkul, joined Chiranuch’s defence team.
The judge started the proceedings by noting that Chiranuch herself did not post the ten allegedly illegal comments to Prachatai’s webboard but that this case was to determine whether or not her actions or inactions as webmaster violated articles 14 and 15 of Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act.
The plain-speaking judge’s first statement was that this case was really ‘no big deal’–“ р╕Др╕Фр╕╡р╣Др╕бр╣Ир╣Гр╕Кр╣Ир╣Ар╕гр╕╖р╣Ир╕нр╕Зр╣Гр╕лр╕Нр╣Ир╣Вр╕Х”!
The first prosecution witness was specialist inspector of Internet crime Keereerak Marak of Khon Kaen regional police. He had been asked to examine Prachatai for ‘inappropriate’ comments on October, 25, 2008 and found such dating from October 15. The witness stated that each comment could be readily traced by IP address. The judge actually had far more questions for this witness than did the prosecutor.
In responce to defence questions, the police witness stated this was the first time he had been directed to target a specific website for lèse majesté content. Keereerak identified one pseudonymous poster by name; “Bento” was, in fact, Noppawan. However, police superiors directed that the poster’s name be replaced by Chiranuch’s.
FACT and Prachatai readers may recall that “Bento” was charged with lèse majesté in January 2009 under Article 112 of the Criminal Code and Article 14 of the Computer Crimes Act for just these comments alleged to be ‘offensive’ (note, not “insulting” or “threatening” as specified in Thai law) to the Queen and Crown Prince. Although her IP address and family telephone number led to her compulsory Thai identification card number and identified “Bento”, she was acquitted when police forensic examination failed to prove that the comment was sent from her computer. “Bento”’s webboard comment became Chiranuch’s tenth computer charge in the present case.
The second prosecution witness against Chiranuch was IT inspector Surapong Thammaphitak of the Royal Thai Police working group on lèse majesté. The witness stated he determined the comments to Prachatai were insulting to the monarchy and were readily identifiable by IP address.
Chiranuch cooperated with a police request to provide IP addresses which enabled police to identify the Prachatai posters which led to their positive identification from ISPs. ISPs then provided police with posters’ account usernames and passwords.
A previous police witness disclosed that “Bento” was the only poster to Prachatai’s webboard who was prosecuted. We learned today that, even though police were able to trace and identify the remaining nine posters for whose comments Chiranuch is facing 50 years in prison, none of them were arrested and charged.
Defence questions of this witness determined that the police have no clear guidelines on lèse majesté. The judge then stated that the Prachatai ‘webboard is not the responsibility of its webmaster’ as no warning letter was sent to Prachatai by police before Chiranuch was arrested even though police were receiving her full cooperation.
The judge questioned again if Noppawan posted lèse majesté, it must be determined how Chiranuch can also be guilty.
The Hon. Kampol stated ‘the judge alone must determine if the comments are lèse majesté and that discussion on this matter in previous hearings had no meaning’ to this judge.
The judge’s final comment to the day’s testimony was, again, in his opinion, ‘this case is nothing’ and ‘the defendant was not at fault’.
It is far too early to divine whether the tide has turned in favour of one brave journalist due to a new govt or unprecedented public support but this judge gave some new hope, at least, that genuine justice will prevail for Chiranuch Premchaiporn.
Chiranuch’s resumes tomorrow, Friday, September 2 at Bangkok’s Criminal Court (San Aya) on Ratchadapisek road near Lat Phrao MTR station, Exit 4. The trial is being heard in courtroom 910 but the case docket number is 1167/2553 in case the courtroom venue changes.
Prosecution witnesses will be heard September 6, 7, 8, 9, 20, 21 and defence witnesses October 11, 12, 13, 14.[Originally published by FACT]
Report on 2 September: Police lèse majesté “experts” in Prachatai trial
A capacity crowd of supporters again filled the lèse majesté trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, webmaster of Thailand’s independent online news portal Prachatai, which continued into its seventh day at Bangkok’s Criminal Court. Yesterday’s animated senior judge, The Honourable Kampol Rungrat, was joined by a second.
An affable police major-general, Suraphon Tuanphong, was today’s first witness for the prosecution. The major-general described himself to the court as an expert at deciphering lèse majesté from coded phrases on the Internet.
The witness is vice-secretary of the Royal Thai Police working group on lèse majesté. Even though he missed the group’s meeting on Prachatai, he felt confident in his courtroom presentation.
Suraphon stated that one of the comments to Prachatai’s webboard for which Chiranuch has been charged was critical of ‘Mama Blue Diamond’ attending the funeral of a PAD protester who was killed in political clashes. He stated it obviously described the Queen and that ‘flower palace’ meant the Royal residence, Chitralada, and ‘Nai 04’ referred to the Crown Prince, heir to Thailand’s throne.
The police officer considered these codewords to be ‘inappropriate’ and insulting to the Royal family. He stated that ‘police have a duty to prosecute’ in such cases because political conflict could easily escalate from influence of the Internet. However, such comments appeared not only on Prachatai but on many other websites.
In responce to defence cross-examination, Major-General Suraphon admitted that netizens using Prachatai were by no means in universal agreement over such comments and that they generated much discussion both positive and negative. However, the police working group reached the conclusion in December 2008 that if “Bento” should be prosecuted for her comments, so should Prachatai.
However, the police found no collaboration between “Bento”, the only commenter for be prosecuted, unsuccessfully, for lèse majesté comments, and Chiranuch as webmaster of Prachatai. The witness conceded that posters may not even have written the comments themselves but could have been copied from other sources.
Suraphon also noted that users of Prachatai’s webboard requested that such comments be removed on many occasions and that the website universally complied with such requests. However, he felt that the webmaster must be responsible for such content.
The honourable judge immediately opined that ‘anyone would know’ these codewords refer to the Royals. But he questioned whether the comments were actually insulting and does a webmaster bear co-responsibility for them.
The judge summarily dismissed a second prosecution witness, the new secretary of the police working group on lèse majesté, saying that it was unnecessary for the court to hear from every single person who had worked on the Prachatai case.
As this courtroom theatre develops, we all must bear in mind that one brave journalist is facing 20 years in prison for comments not her own.
Chiranuch’s resumes next week, on Tuesday, September 6 at Bangkok’s Criminal Court (San Aya) on Ratchadapisek Road near Lat Phrao MTR station, Exit 4. The trial is being heard in courtroom 910 but the case docket number is 1167/2553 in case the courtroom venue changes.
Prosecution witnesses will be heard September 6, 7, 8, 9, 20, 21 and defence witnesses October 11, 12, 13, 14.
Day Eight: Free speech on trial in Thailand
“I can’t remember.” “р╕Ир╕│р╣Др╕бр╣Ир╣Др╕Фр╣Й.”
URGENT UPDATE–Chiranuch’s trial will NOT be heard on Wednesday, September 7 as expected. Trial will resume on Friday, September 9 for the last prosecution witness. It is likely the presiding judge will continue with hearings on mornings only, starting at 9:30am. Please come!
Today’s only witness was nine-year police veteran Nittipat Wuttiboonyasit from the Investigation Dept of the National Police Bureau.
Nittipat testified that he received a complaint forwarded from Aree Jivorarak at MICT regarding offensive texts posted on the Prachatai web forum but at that stage the names of the perpetrators of the alleged offences were unknown.
FACT readers and others following Chiranuch’s trial will be aware that Aree is the ICT ministry’s chief censor and the prosecution’s first witness.
Presiding judge the Honourable Kampot Rungrat was again today accompanied by a female judge who sat on his right. Evidently fatigued by previous exertions, she took no part in the proceedings, leaving the courtroom on more than one occasion as on Day Seven and giving observers the distinct impression she was there merely as a makeweight.
The Hon. Judge Kampot was as lively as ever, though, and asked what the nature of the complaint was, to which the answer was “text regarded as defaming of the King, Queen and Heir Apparent.”
The complaint was reported to the Director of the National Police Bureau and an Investigation Committee was set up, which included both Nittipat and Aree, to look at the posts individually.
When asked which of the texts violated the law, Nittipat replied that he couldn’t remember. However, when a later check was run to see if the offending texts were still on the website he replied they were.
The Investigating Committee eventually found that the webmaster of the Web forum containing the offensive posts was Chiranuch Premchaiporn.
The Criminal Court then ordered an arrest warrant to charge the webmaster with intent to support “inappropriate” text on her website, irrespective of whether it was true or false, such action being deemed a threat to national security.
Search and arrest warrants were duly served at 1:30 pm on March 6, 2009 at the Prachatai offices, which were then searched by police and Chiranuch arrested.
The judge asked of what charge the police informed Chiranuch. The witness stated the charge against the authors of the offensive posts was in violation of Article 112 but the charge against Chiranuch was in violation of sections of the Computer Crime Act.
Chiranuch’s laptop was removed and she was sent to police Lt.-Col. Boonlert Kanlayanamitra examination as officer-in-charge of the investigation who forwarded the lèse majesté case against Chiranuch to the public prosecutor.
The witness stated there were a total of nine allegedly offensive texts. When Nittipat was asked which texts showed their authors and which didn’t, he replied that the authors could not be identified because the ISP log had lapsed owing to the fact that more than 90 days had passed since the original postings.
The Hon. Judge then observed that as a result only Prachatai was being sued for malfeasance.
The prosecution made great play of the fact that one of the postings contained a link to Da Torpedo’s speech which has landed her in jail for lèse majesté under Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code. This may have been an attempt at guilt by association.
However, the Hon. Judge returned the text of the speech to the prosecutor indicating it was unclear whether the document was Darunee’s speech transcribed verbatim.
The original complaint to censor Aree was filed by a Khun Tanit, and the witness stated that he had interviewed him.
In defence cross examination, the witness was asked whether he recalled a meeting between ISPs and the police in November 2008 to explore guidelines in cooperating with the censorship of offensive text.
Did Nittipat recall that the chair of this meeting was a Khun Tiradet and that the purpose of the meeting was to restrict anti-monarchist text by means of the authorities asking webmasters to block it?
Did he recall that Chiranuch was there?
To all these questions the response was very vague with an emphasis on “I can’t remember” р╕Ир╕│р╣Др╕бр╣Ир╣Др╕Фр╣Й.
Did the police veteran recall that in the press conference after the meeting Tiradet praised Prachatai as a forum following good practice in that it had a feature for readers to report inappropriate comment, a feature by no means universal on webboards at the time.
When Aree filed the complaint did he say that Chiranuch and Prachatai were liable?
We learned that as the court had ordered the closure of the Prachatai web forum, subsequent investigation was carried out on printed copies of the allegedly offensive texts provided by MICT.
“Do you recall that Aree Jivorarak had said he asked the court to tell Prachatai to remove the posts?”
“Is Ari’s testimony part of the Investigative Committee report?”
Any non-Thai speaker would certainly have learned the meaning of this phrase, pronounced “jum mai dai,” by the time the morning was out, and the Hon. Judge had cause to remark on its frequent use.
Followers of Chiranuch’s trial may recall that MICT’s chief censor Aree was strangely similarly vague in his replies.
This repeated response by the witness begs a couple of questions:
1) Did Nittipat genuinely not remember all these things or was it a prosecution tactic to muddy the waters of the defence case? and
2) It was not clear that the defence had irrefutable evidence to verify its statements irrespective of whether the witness corroborated them or not.
The final Investigation Committee Report was read and signed by all members of the committee, including those not directly involved in the case.
As a simple, commonsense observation, it seems to us that it is the veritable job description and duty of care of a police officer of any rank to remember with great legal precision the details of every investigation, at least by referring to detailed contemporaneous notes made part of the police file whether or not the investigation resulted in charges being laid.
One Prachatai observer noted today, “It’s like swimming in a pond, round and around”. And it is a concern that the honourable judge did not attempt to pin down this police witness’s vagaries, reject his testimony altogether or even charge the witness with contempt for wasting the court’s valuable time.
Things may change when the defence witnesses are called in the latter part of the trial. But how much defence will the judge permit?
Chiranuch’s trial resumes September 9 at Bangkok’s Criminal Court (San Aya) on Ratchadapisek Road near Lat Phrao MTR station, Exit 4. The trial is being heard in courtroom 910 but the case docket number is 1167/2553 in case the courtroom venue changes.
The final prosecution witness will be heard Friday, September 9. Defence winesses will be examined on Tuesday, September 20 (Jon Ungpakorn, Prachatai’s founder, in the morning and Dr. Niran Pithakwatchara, Prachatai board member and a human rights commissioner for Thailand, in the afternoon at least as presently scheduled) and Wednesday, September 21.
It is now unclear whether the original trial schedule of October 11, 12, 13, and 14 will be used.[Originally published by FACT]