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Small attack on Thai newspaper has large implications

A Red Shirt protester holds a portrait of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra at a rally in Bangkok on May 8. (Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha)

To head off rising tensions between supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and cartoonist Somchai Katanyutanan, who faces possible criminal defamation charges for critical comments he posted on his personal Facebook page, Thailand's government has to make sure police fully investigate this weekend's attack on Thai Rath, the country's largest circulation daily newspaper. The government's public sensitivity to expression such as Somchai's has spurred recent political violence in Thailand, including threats against journalists. 

According to local reports, four assailants threw firecrackers and two hollow iron balls--the kind used in the French lawn game "petanque"-- at the newspaper's main office in Bangkok early Saturday morning. Glass was shattered in a security booth and two guards were injured. The perpetrators got away on motorcycles. Police officials said they were checking fingerprints from the crime scene and footage from CCTV surveillance cameras to identify the suspects, reports said.

Saturday's attack comes as Bangkok Metropolitan Police, at the request of Yingluck's government, are investigating Somchai for a Facebook post which referred to Yingluck as an "evil woman" and likened a speech she made on Thai politics to selling out national interests, according to reports. Yingluck has publicly defended the late April speech in Mongolia, which was critical of the 2006 military coup that ousted her elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, from power.

If charged and convicted under Thailand's penal code, Somchai faces a maximum two years in prison and 200,000 baht (US$6,730) in fines. The police complaint, which was filed on May 3, accused him on three counts: insulting an official during an official event, public defamation, and violating the Computer Crime Act, which prohibits the posting of defamatory comments over the Internet.

On May 7, the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) protest group, also known as the Red Shirts, protested in front of Thai Rath's office to demand that Somchai apologize for the critical commentary.

Police said they were investigating whether the UDD, which has in the past harassed and assaulted reporters perceived as biased against its political activities and patrons, was behind the attack, according to the reports.

This type of crude attack against the press happens too frequently in Thailand. Not only should the government vigorously pursue those behind the attack on Thai Rath, they should stop criminal defamation proceedings against Somchai.

On May 5, Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Minister Anudith Nakornthap said his ministry would censor online materials and take strict legal action against anyone who unfairly criticized the prime minister, according to local reports. Two days later, Yingluck backed the ICT Ministry's right to censor any Web content that "goes too far" in criticizing the government, local reports said. No new legislation has been proposed; rather, the government is indicating that it will use existing laws, including the Computer Crime Act, to enforce a new, arbitrary standard. 

Yingluck's administration already heavily censors the Internet for anti-royal materials, in line with the country's harsh lèse-majesté law that bans criticism of the Thai royal family. Last year, the ICT Ministry claimed to have blocked tens of thousands of Facebook pages for posting materials deemed as critical of the monarchy. Now her government aims to expand that same censorship machinery to shield herself from online criticism.

 

[Reporting from Bangkok]

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Comments

Crispin is not telling the whole story here - Somchai referred to PM Yingluck as a "whore" with his attack coming off the back of almost 2years of endless misogynistic hate speech aimed at Yingluck. Even many persons committed to freedom of speech condemned Somchai's actions as defamatory.

Secondly, the Democrat Party leadership have been using the defamation laws used by PM Yingluck repeatedly on maybe 20 or so occasions - why hasn't Crispin reported these actions?

I'm sorry but Crispin is not giving a fair, balanced or factually accurate account here. It is also decontextualised and missing important facts.

I'm Thai and I have to disagree with Dave downdide

the whole content is

" Whore sell their own body but Evil Woman sell nation "

stop blindly backing up Government please

Dave downside , I think you are the one who try to distort the truth here.
The content didn't refer to PM "Whore sell their own body but the Evil woman sell Nation" or you interpret the message as PM is A Whore?

and there is another cartoonist in Thai Rath newspaper who always calm that Democrat Party leader is murderer for so many year but didn't received any lawsuit talk about double standard here.

Dear Dave Downside,

Please refer to CPJ’s reports on the Democrat Party-led government's various attacks on the press, including the censorship of Red Shirt-affiliated radio and TV stations and anti-royal websites. Examples are here (http://cpj.org/2011/07/editor-faces-anti-royal-charges-in-thailand.php) and here (https://www.cpj.org/2011/04/thai-officials-close-13-radio-stations-detain-staf.php).

We referred to this defamation suit because of the potential link to the physical attack on Thai Rath's offices. We do not weigh in on every single defamation complaint in Thailand, but do respond to physical attacks on news organizations. If you could send details of the 20 defamation cases initiated by the previous government, we would appreciate receiving the information for our records and review.

Regards,
Elana Beiser/CPJ Senior Editor

I don't think Somchai was refering PM as a whore. I shouldn't quote his status here (I may end up in jail) but I would like to translate what Somchai said. Let readers decide how bad or violent it is.

"Please understand this, Whores sell their own bodies, but bad woman sells the nation"

He posted this along with photos of the PM giving a speech in 7th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies which was held in Mongolia. There are many people talk about how bad her speech was and how this humiliated the country. I would not go further, political problems in Thailand are very sensitive and complicated. You can search them on the internet.

PS. Sorry for my bad English, it's not my native language.

An random anonymous Thai May 14, 2013 1:31:23 PM ET

Elana Beiser

I'm sorry but I'm not your Thai-based researcher - that's Mr Crispin. Who, rather strangely, doesn't seem interested in the recent case of the Constitutional Court filling a defamation case against Red Shirt protesters nor the numerous defamation cases the Democrat Party has filed against others. If any party in recent times has used the defamation law to enact a form of political oppression it is the Democrats. And please note I didn't state "previous government" - you appear to have misread my earlier comment.

The media has a duty, as you know, to behave with certain responsibilities. The endless misogyny expressed towards PM Yingluck has been disgraceful and whilst I don't defend her taking this stance against Somchai, to remove that context of misogyny in this piece is very very poor of the CPJ. That Somchai himself is someone known for extreme rightwing, violent political views - which he's been allowed to express unhindered for years - also needs to be considered as part of the evidence-based context.

Furthermore, Thailand's defamation laws are criminal as are such laws in most of Europe including in Finland which has just been ranked as having the most press freedom in the world. The defamation law is available to all Thai citizens, equally, and PM Yingluck has as much right to protection under that law as any other citizen. The debate, of course, of whether defamation should be criminalised is another one and wouldn't just be about Thailand's laws.

Finally there is no known and proven link between the bombing and the cartoonist. That is pure speculation and given the notoriously complex issues inherent in Thai politics it could have been committed by any one of a number of parties for any one of a number of reasons.

I think it would've been better to let the police finish their investigation before you allowed Crispin to finger and attempt to smear the Red Shirts.

Crispin, as well as working for a media outlet owned by Sondhi Lim - the leader of the anti-democracy PAD, an organisation described by the Asian Human Rights Commission as neo-fascist - is noted for his strong anti-Thaksin and anti-Red Shirt views. That's fine, he's perfectly entitled to those views. But they have no place at the CPJ and this report lacks balance, context and evidence. If you, as an organisation, then expect anonymous commentators on your blogs to then do your work for you - properly researching evidence and context for your reports - then maybe both you and I are in the wrong profession.

A couple of days ago on this site I posted a comment containing a list of cases where the Democrat Party leadership had used the defamation law to prevent criticism of them.

This list was of four very recent cases including one which resulted in a year's prison sentence.

Why haven't you posted my comment which included this list?

CPJ should report accurate facts and provide a proper context. If you're not doing that, and you then deliberately prevent comments which make proven and substantive criticisms being published on your site, then your commitment to freedom of expression and proper, evidence-based debate must be questioned.

Here's a more thorough breakdown of the misogynistic term as used by the cartoonist, Somchai

http://asiancorrespondent.com/107744/thai-rath-cartoonist-yingluck-is-evil-women-who-sells-the-country-also-implies-she-is-worse-than-a-whore/

This piece offers far more detail than Crispin and CPJ's flawed article here. It's quite obvious Crispin seems to have deliberately mis-translated the comments made by Somchai. CPJ management should ask him why he has done this.

Below, once again, is a link to a story where the Democrat Party clearly used the defamation law as a political tool. A Red Shirt leader was given a year in prison in December 2012 for comments he made about Abhisit when Abhisit was PM. This is the context of the use of Thailand's defamation laws.

http://www.thaivisa.com/forum/topic/602611-red-shirt-co-leader-arisman-gets-jail-sentence-for-defaming-abhisit/

Of course, CPJ and Crispin can always try to equate a misogynistic smear with a political speech but it's not accurate and not based in the actual evidence. Please be more thorough and evidence-led in your reporting of Thai events in the future.