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Thailand court sentences webmaster under royal insult law

A Bangkok criminal court on Wednesday sentenced Chiranuch Premchaiporn, webmaster of independent Internet news site Prachatai [media website], to an eight-month suspended sentence for failing to delete defamatory comments against Thailand's royal family. She was initially sentenced to one year in prison, but the court reduced and suspended the sentence. In addition to the sentence, she was required to pay a fine of 20,000 baht (USD $627.75) which she paid through the help of supporters and colleagues. The judge presiding in the case, Judge Kampol Rungrat, said that the sentence against Chiranuch was based on one defamatory comment that was left on the website for 20 days. The ruling was heavily criticized by Google [media website] and other human rights groups such as the Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. Taj Meadows, a spokesman for Google, pointed out that Chiranuch was not the creator of the posts but rather a host of the website. According to Meadows, to hold the host of the website liable for the comments made by other users would have detrimental effect on Thailand's Internet economy. HRW points out the problem created by the case to free expression. Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, projected that future website hosts will engage in self-censorship [press release] out of fear of prosecution for violating Thailand's Computer Crimes Act [unofficial text].

Thailand's Computer Crimes Act has been heavily criticized in the past. In October, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue [official website] condemned [JURIST report] the law for putting right to freedom of opinion and expression in stake in exchange for further enforcing the insult law. In 2009, a Thai criminal court sentenced [JURIST report] a political activist to 18 years imprisonment for insulting the royal family. The judge hearing the case had the trial closed for security reasons which Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] opposed. It called [JURIST report] for a public trial because there was no reasonable national security reason for a closed trial which involved an individual who made insulting remarks about the royal family.

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