STOP ONLINE MEDIA INTIMIDATION
Reference is made to the arrest of Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, web manager of online newspaper Prachatai (http://www.prachatai.com) by the police at approximately 2.30 pm on Friday March 6, 2009, after which the police investigated her, copied hard disk in her personal notebook computer, and charged her with the violation of Sections 14(1), 14(3), 14(5), and (15) of the Computer Crime Act, which pertain to crimes which “involve import to a computer system of forged computer data, either in whole or in part, or false computer data, in a manner that is likely to cause damage to that third party or the public; that involves import to a computer system of any computer data related with an offence against the Kingdom’s security under the Criminal Code; that involves the dissemination or forwarding of computer data already known to be computer data [which are illegal]” and “any service provider intentionally supporting or consenting to an offence …within a computer system under their control shall be subject to the same penalty as that imposed upon a person committing an offence…”
Thai Netizen Network (TNN), Campaign for Popular Media Reform (CPMR), and Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) are of the opinion that despite the government’s claim that such arrest was made pursuant to the law, it was a case of the government’s use of legally sanctioned powers to threaten and intimidate the rights and freedom of online news media. Prachatai is an online newspaper that works within the purview of journalism ethics, as a new media that invites public opinions from its readers. Prachatai’s web manager upholds a standard that is in full compliance with the Computer Crime Act with regards to keeping all Internet traffic records, has exercised due diligence in erasing user-generated content that are sensitive in nature, and in the past has fully been coordinating and complying with the state’s officials in erasing such content.
Since the content of all Internet media constantly changes by its very nature, the state must exercise flexibility and care in regulating online media that technologically differs from other media. The state’s officials should also use negotiation and reconciliation in their approach, as well as ‘soft’ measures, not ones that are based solely on the intent to prosecute.
Further, the police’s charge that Prachatai supports the posting of content that endangers national security is completely unfounded. To date, the police have not explained how such content will hamper national security, and the specific content that the police deems to violate Section 14 of Computer Crime Act in this case has ceased to appear on Prachatai website since November 4, 2008.
Contrary to the government’s claims, the use of an aggressive measure in this case, i.e. making the arrest without prior notice on a Friday afternoon, a fact which made seeking bail for the accused more inconvenient and difficult than normal, reflects the intent to intensify the tension, worsen the ‘climate of fear’, and further provoke deep distrust among members of the Thai society. Therefore, such a heavy-handed measure by the government will not help protect the so-called national security.
On January 13, 2009, TNN, CPMR, and FACT have together submitted the proposal and protest against the government’s anti-Internet “War Room” policy to the government. Our proposal and protest was personally received by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who agreed to set up a working team which comprises members from the Internet user community and relevant government agencies e.g. the ICT Ministry and the Police Department. This working team was to be formed to discuss and mutually agree upon principles by which the Computer Crime Act should be enforced, based on respect of all rights and freedoms of the media and citizens in accordance with principles of universal human rights.
Given the aforementioned arrest, TNN, CPMR, and FACT have the following demands to the government:
- That the government stop its current policy of intimidating Internet media, stop using any measure that amounts to the declaration of war against Internet media, and instead switch to negotiation and seeking co-ordination on the basis of respect for the citzens’ rights and freedoms, and an understanding of the nature of the Internet as a new media;
- That the government follow through on the Prime Minister’s earlier verbal agreement to open a channel and create a mechanism to exchange ideas and opinions between the representatives of Internet media and all relevant government agencies, particularly the police and ICT Ministry, in order to foster mutually agreed understanding in the correct way to regulate online media and communities;
- That the government cease all repetitions and replications of negative attitude that will lead to further prejudice, tension, and rift in society. In particular, we demand that the government cease accusing Prachatai of being “lese majeste website,” “threat to national security website”, “an anti-monarchy conspiracy” or “backed by influential politicians” etc., Such accusations are not only completely unfounded; they also reflect the true level of maturity of government at the helm of a democratic country, in ways that harm its attempt to build public confidence, both in Thailand and abroad.
We would like to extend goodwill to the government and all relevant agencies and offer our willingness to coordinate all efforts with regards to creative regulation of online media, on the basis of trying to strike a balance between regulation and protecting the citizens’ basic rights and freedoms which the government has a direct duty to uphold.
Lastly, we would like to urge all media including the public to demand that the Thai government use diplomacy tactics instead of blunt prosecution under law, in order to find a creative solution to the situation instead of using threats and intimidation as in the past which never truly achieved the government’s objectives.
With confidence in the rights, freedoms, and integrity of all citizens.
8 March 2009