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Judge delays decision in key web freedom case

Thai journo faces TWENTY years for insulting royals

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An online news editor facing up to 20 years in a Thai prison for failing to delete quickly enough comments on the site insulting the royal family has had her case postponed again as webmasters in the country wait nervously on the outcome.

Judge Nittaya Yaemsri set a new court date for 30 May, claiming more time was needed to prepare the appropriate documents, AP reported.

Chiranuch ‘Jiew’ Premchaiporn was arrested in 2008 over 10 comments made on independent news site Prachatai which broke the country’s Computer Crime Act.

This law penalises any “false computer data” which is deemed likely to cause damage to a third party or national security. Chiranuch herself is being charged under Article 15, which rules that “anyone supporting or consenting” to such illegal activities will be subject to the same penalties.

Further heightening the tension is that the comments in question were deemed insulting to the monarchy.

Thailand has strict lèse-majesté – or ‘injured majesty’ – laws and has been enforcing them with increasing regularity over the past few years, but critics have argued that given the wide room for interpretation, they are being misused in order to deliberately restrict freedom of speech.

Chiranuch’s legal battle is being seen as a test case which, if it goes against her, could open the way for more webmasters and media companies to be prosecuted for failing to act on harmful comments on their sites.

Thailand has come under increasing criticism from the international community for its apparent crack down on web freedoms.

Aside from convicting citizens under lèse-majesté laws, and deleting thousands of web pages, the government has also welcomed new functionality announced by Twitter earlier this year which will allow for the blocking of tweets at an individual country level in accordance with local laws.

As a result, rights group Reporters Without Borders put Thailand on its “countries under surveillance” list last month and warned it could even swap places with notoriously repressive state Burma.

“If Thailand continues down the slope of content filtering and jailing netizens on lèse-majesté charges, it could soon join the club of the world’s most repressive countries as regards the internet,” the report said.

Given that a ruling was expected to be made today, the unusual decision to postpone could be a result of the significant political implications of the outcome. ®

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