Chiranuch Premchaiporn thanks groups who gave support to her case but asks them give similar attention to lese majeste cases
(Bangkok, 1 May) Prachatai executive director Chiranuch Premchaiporn yesterday thanked supporters for keeping close watch on her case that has drawn worldwide attention to the situation of freedom of expression in Thailand.
Chiranuch spoke at a SEAPA-organized press conference yesterday after the Thai Criminal Court postponed the delivery of the verdict against charges of violating the 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA) for allowing online posts deemed offensive to the monarchy.
More than 100 observers from media and human rights NGOS, foreign governments packed the courtroom and the hallway of the Criminal Court on Rachadaphisek road in Bangkok to await the announcement of the verdict.
Observers included not only representatives from international NGOs and European governments but media activists and citizen journalists from Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Pakistan.
However, a judge told the crowd that the verdict had to be delayed for one month because there were “too many documents to consider”.
The immediate reaction from Chiranuch was that postponement was the one outcome she did not prepare for in awaiting the verdict yesterday.
She expressed confidence about the defense presented by her legal team, as she expects the judges to “give their verdict carefully and righteously” on 30 May.
However, “I cannot expect anything since this is a new law,” Chiranuch said, pointing to the fact that this is the first case of prosecution under the CCA.
International support examined
During the press conference, Chiranuch and other speakers in the press conference examined the impact of international pressure from NGOs and other governments on the case.
Sinfah Tunsarawuth of the Media Defence – Southeast Asia, a group of lawyers defending journalist rights, said “international support can work both ways,” as he explained that while observers have contributed to a more transparent trial, it can also offend politically powerful persons in the country.
The overall effect on the Chiranuch case has been generally positive, as Thai diplomats have even cited it as an example of high judicial standards during the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review session for Thailand earlier this year.
However, “Thai officials do not like intervention,” Chiranuch added, and explained that officials, including judges, preferred cases like hers to be handled as domestic matters in order to “protect sovereignty”.
International pressure may also have a more negative effect on lese majeste cases, since officials tend to be more protective of the monarchy from international scrutiny.
Also because of their highly sensitive nature, lese majeste cases tend to receive less attention. This has the effect of making proceedings less transparent, says Arthit Suriyawongkul of the Thai Netizens Network.
Arthit cited the case of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, an editor accused of allowing lese majeste articles in the Voice of Taksin magazine. Somyot has been denied bail at least eight times, and his case has been transferred to different court jurisdictions during the year that he has been detained.
Certainly, the treatment of Chiranuch was much better.
“I have to be thankful that my friends ask me what they can do,” she said, “but support should not just be personal, but given as a movement.”
The constant presence of these observers throughout the trial has helped the Prachatai director feel that she was “not alone in this fight.”
She cautioned that, even with the delivery of the verdict on 30 May, “the fight will not be over”.