Thai web editor sentenced in free-speech case

Chiranuch Premchaiporn given suspended jail term amid calls to change laws limiting comments about royal family.

    A Thai court has convicted a web editor for publishing posts critical of the monarchy on her website, but suspended her jail sentence amid calls to reform the country's lese majeste law.

    Chiranuch Premchaiporn was found guilty on Wednesday of failing to speedily delete comments by other people deemed insulting to the royal family from her popular news website, Prachatai. The Bangkok court fined her $630.

    But Judge Kampol Rungrat, while sentencing Chiranuch to eight months in jail, suspended the sentence for a year, saying that she had co-operated with the court and had "never violated the law herself".

    "The defendant cannot deny responsibility for taking care of content on her website," he said, adding she was initially given a one-year jail term but that this was cut to eight months for her "useful" testimony to the court.

    She therefore sentenced Chiranuch, an award-winning online editor, to eight months in prison for contravening the Computer Crimes Act, but suspended the jail term for one year because she had admitted her guilt.

    The act is used along with a law on lese majeste to penalise insults against the king, queen and crown prince, but critics
    say the legislation is used in a heavy-handed way to discredit activists and politicians opposed to the royalist establishment.

    Fierce debate

    Larry Jagan, a Southeast Asia expert, told Al Jazeera from Bangkok that most Thais "revere the king and believe that critical comments should not be allowed".

    However, "the way the law is being used is to stifle expression at a time when the Red Shirts are questioning the role of the palace, and there are questions about [the royal] succession," he said.

    "It should be pointed out that it isn't the government that is using these laws, it is the police."

    Chiranuch still faces further charges, at a date yet to be set, of breaching section 112 of the Thai criminal code which outlaws insults to the royal family and allows for a maximum 15-year sentence for every conviction.

    Hers is one of several prominent cases that have stirred fierce debate in Thailand, where authorities are accused of trampling on free speech by exploiting the strict lese majeste law against defaming the royal family.

    This month, Amphon Tangnoppaku, 61, died in jail after being sentenced last November to 20 years for sending text messages defaming and threatening Queen Sirikit.

    The evidence was felt by many to be flimsy and he denied the charge, saying he did not even know how to send a text message.

    A petition signed by almost 27,000 people urging reform was submitted to parliament on Tuesday in the first mass action of its kind.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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