Thai web editor escapes jail over 'royal insults'

Thailand's laws stipulate punishment for anyone defaming, insulting or threatening the royal family.

Story highlights

  • Chiranuch Premchaiporn found guilty for allowing comments deemed insulting to Thai monarchy
  • Court cut the original one-year sentence because of her "useful" testimony to the court
  • Thailand's "lese-majeste" law carries strict penalties for being critical of royal family
  • Rights groups believe the law prevents peaceful freedom of expression
A web editor in Thailand has been convicted of hosting posts on a website critical of the country's revered monarchy.
Chiranuch Premchaiporn was found guilty for allowing content prohibited under Thailand's controversial "lese-majeste" law to stay on Prachatai, an independent online news site, for 20 days before it was deleted.
"As a web master you cannot deny your role of policing the content," Judge Kampol Rungrat told her at the trial in Bangkok Wednesday.
She was fined 20,000 baht (US$628) and given an eight-month prison sentence -- suspended for a year pending her good behavior. The court cut the original one-year sentence because of her "useful" testimony to the court.
Chiranuch had faced 10 charges under the 2007 Computer Crime Act -- which includes lese-majeste offenses -- for statements posted by others on Prachatai between April and November 2008. She could have faced 20 years in jail.
"The verdict is acceptable but I cannot say I'm totally satisfied as I'm still being convicted," she told CNN by phone after the verdict.
She said she would consult with lawyers before deciding whether to appeal.
Meanwhile, a petition signed by 27,000 people proposing a reform of the strict lese-majeste law was this week handed to the Thai parliament. According to The Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the petition aims to sponsor a bill to prevent abuse of the current law.
International rights groups such as Human Rights Watch believe the law criminalizes the expression of peaceful opinions.
"Thailand's lese-majeste laws are being overused and abused," said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at HRW.
"The government's assault on internet service providers sends a chilling message to webmasters and internet companies that they either censor other people's content or face severe penalties."
Earlier this month, a 61-year-old man serving a 20-year sentence for lese-majeste and computer offenses died in a prison hospital in Bangkok.
Ampon Tangnoppakul, also known as Uncle SMS, was jailed last November for sending text messages with offensive content, the Bangkok Post reported.
His death provoked outrage among many in Thailand. According to the Post, hundreds of protesters from the red-shirt movement -- generally loyal to ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- placed funeral wreaths, red roses and lilies at the hospital. At the city's criminal court, they tied black ribbons on fences to protest against his jail term.
Various banners condemning lese-majeste, or Section 112 of the Criminal Code, were also flown.