EU's concern over Thai webmaster guilty verdict

Kioskea on Thursday May 31, 2012 12:20:25 AM

Thai editor of the popular Prachatai news website, Chiranuch Premchaiporn outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok

Thai editor of the popular Prachatai news website, Chiranuch Premchaiporn smiles after the verdict at the Criminal Court in Bangkok on May 30,2012. A Thai court convicted the online editor for hosting posts critical of the revered monarchy on her website, but suspended her jail sentence amid demands to reform the lese majeste law.

The European Union Thursday expressed "deep concern" over a Thai web editor's suspended prison sentence for comments deemed insulting to the monarchy that were posted on her website by other people.

The EU said it was "encouraged" that Chiranuch Premchaiporn would not serve prison time for failing to speedily delete a post on her Prachatai news site, but said the guilty verdict would have "damaging effects".

Chiranuch, 44, who had faced a possible 20-year jail sentence under controversial computer and royal insult legislation, was given an eight-month suspended sentence by a Bangkok court Wednesday.

"The EU expresses its deep concern about the damaging effects of a guilty verdict and the ensuing conviction on the freedom of expression in Thailand, for criminalising intermediaries for content posted by other internet users on websites," the EU delegation in Bangkok said in a statement.

The high profile case comes amid heated debate about a surge of prosecutions under Thai laws that criminalise criticism of the monarchy.

In a rare intervention, web giant Google warned the sentence set a legal precedent that would compromise companies hosting Internet platforms and pose a danger to web users.

The "guilty verdict for something somebody else wrote on her website is a serious threat to the future of the Internet in Thailand," a Google spokesman said late Wednesday.

The monarchy is a highly sensitive topic in politically turbulent Thailand, where 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is revered as a demi-god by many Thais, has been hospitalised since September 2009.

Critics say charges brought under tough royal defamation laws have become increasingly politically motivated in Thailand, which has been rocked by periods of civil unrest by rival factions since a 2006 coup by royalist generals ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

"Chiranuch's conviction shows that Internet bystanders can still be caught up in expensive and uncertain criminal prosecutions for postings on their site they neither wrote, edited, nor support," said Danny O'Brien, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, who served as an expert witness during the trial.

Chiranuch faces a second trial under the kingdom's lese majeste laws that could attract a maximum sentence of 50 years.

© 2012 AFP

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