BANGKOK — A Thai web editor is due Wednesday to hear whether she will be jailed for hosting defamatory postings about the monarchy on her website, amid a growing clamour for the law to be changed.
The case has stirred fierce debate in Thailand, where strict laws against defaming the royal family have prompted accusations that authorities are trampling on free speech.
Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the 44-year-old editor of the popular Prachatai news website, faces up to two decades behind bars if convicted under the kingdom’s tough computer laws.
But she also faces further charges — at a date to be set — of breaching section 112 of the Thai criminal code which outlaws insults to the royal family and allows for a maximum 15-year sentence for every conviction.
Chiranuch denies the allegations that she did not remove quickly enough 10 online posts by other people perceived as critical to the monarchy in 2008.
The verdict, which was unexpectedly postponed from April 30, comes as fierce debate again swirls over Thailand’s lese majeste laws. On Tuesday, a petition signed by almost 27,000 people urging reform was submitted to parliament in the first mass action of its kind.
Chiranuch’s case has received widespread international attention, because of both the length of the potential sentence and the fact the accusations relate to other people’s comments that she says were removed promptly.
She has also made the unusual decision to deny the charges — many accused of defaming the monarchy opt to plead guilty in the hope of receiving a royal pardon.
“I don’t think I’m guilty. I think I did the right thing. Fighting this is the way to prove that I’m right,” she told AFP before the postponed April 30 hearing.
Scrutiny of the law has intensified since the death of a 62-year-old Thai man this month while serving a 20-year sentence for committing lese majeste.
The royal family is a highly sensitive topic in politically turbulent Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is revered as a demi-god by many Thais, has been hospitalised since September 2009.
The Asian Human Rights Commission on Tuesday said the allegations against Chiranuch “make a mockery of the Court and the meaning of justice in Thailand” and “post a clear and direct threat to the rights of citizens in Thailand”.
Chiranuch, who has become a leading figure in the campaign for freedom of expression in Thailand, said before her April trial that she was ready to face the court.
“Sometimes I feel afraid. I’m not brave. The most important thing is not to let fear take over,” she said.