BANGKOK, Thailand - A court in Thailand has declared a website operator guilty of computer crimes for not quickly removing a posting by a blogger deemed offensive to the monarchy. The court suspended the sentence, but the verdict has been condemned by rights groups and an Internet industry representative as a dangerous precedent.
Bangkok’s Criminal Court Wednesday handed down a surprisingly lenient sentence for a case involving alleged defamation of the Thai monarchy.
The judge ruled webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn was guilty of failing to remove an offensive posting by a blogger on her popular news website, Prachatai, quickly enough.
Although the webmaster faced up to 20 years in prison, the court gave Chiranuch a reduced sentence of eight months in prison that was suspended because she pleaded guilty and a fine of $625.
After the verdict,Chiranuch told reporters outside the courthouse the sentence was acceptable.
She says she is not satisfied with the point that she was found guilty. She says she will discuss with her lawyer about whether to appeal or not.
Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling the conviction a setback for free speech.
The verdict also raises concerns for website operators and online business in Thailand.
The Asia Internet Coalition is an industry association founded by eBay, Google, Nokia, Skype and Yahoo! It seeks to promote free and open Internet in the Asia Pacific. Executive Director John Ure Wednesday expressed great concern about the verdict. He called it a dangerous precedent to hold webmasters legally responsible for user comments.
“This kind of verdict will dissuade people from starting up businesses which are Internet based and which involve people posting online comments,” he said.
Ure says they are urging the Thai government to reconsider the law used to prosecute Chiranuch, the Computer Crimes Act, and to work with website operators rather than punish them.
The controversial law is aimed at hackers and online fraud, but also used against users of the Internet who defame the monarchy.
Thailand has strict laws against insulting the King, Queen, and Crown Prince, Lese Majeste, that are usually harshly enforced with up to 15 years in prison for each offense.
Rights groups say the laws are abused for political purposes and to silence discussion of the role of the monarchy.