Police arrest Thai Web editor on anti-crown charge

Bangkok, September 24, 2010The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the arrest today of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, editor of the popular Thailand news website Prachatai, on charges of insulting the royal family. 

Prachatai said police at Suvarnabhumi Airport detained Chiranuch at 2:30 p.m. as she arrived from Hungary, where she had attended an Internet freedom conference. Police confirmed the arrest in comments to Matichon, a Thai-language daily newspaper.

Her arrest stems from comments posted to Prachatai in 2008 that were allegedly in violation of the Computer Crime Act and lese majeste laws, according to Prachatai. Lese majeste laws, which shield Thailand’s royal family from criticism, can bring prison penalties of up to 15 years.

“We urge Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to release journalist Chiranuch Premchaiporn immediately and unconditionally,” said Shawn W. Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “The government should stop using anti-crown charges to suppress legitimate criticism.” 

This is the second time Chiranuch has been arrested on anti-crown charges. On March 6, 2009, police officials detained her during a raid on Prachatai‘s Bangkok news office, during which they took copies of computer hard drives. Chiranuch was later released on bail, but remains involved in court proceedings over comments allegedly critical of Queen Sirikit that were posted to one of Prachatai’s Web boards.

Chiranuch’s new arrest comes amid an intensifying crackdown on Thai media, according to CPJ research. Since imposing a state of emergency on April 7, Abhisit’s government has shuttered a satellite television news station, community radio stations, print publications and websites aligned with the anti-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) protest movement.

Two journalists–Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto and freelance photographer Fabio Polenghi–were killed and several other journalists were injured during armed exchanges between protestors and troops in April and May.  CPJ issued a special report on July 29 that chronicled the circumstances behind the violence and called upon Abhisit’s government to bring those responsible to justice.