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Thai web editor faces 20 year sentence for ‘royal insults’ posted by others

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A Thai web editor facing decades behind bars over remarks about the monarchy posted by other people on her website said she still hopes to be acquitted ahead of a closely-watched verdict this week.

A Bangkok court is set to decide Monday on charges against Chiranuch Premchaiporn that could carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, in a case that has shone a spotlight on Thailand’s strict lese majeste and computer laws.

Chiranuch, the editor of the popular Prachatai news website, denies allegations that she did not remove 10 online posts perceived as critical to the monarchy quickly enough in 2008.

“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.

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 she removed as quickly as possible.

She has also made the unusual decision to deny the charges — many accused in Thai lese majeste trials opt to plead guilty in the hope of receiving a royal pardon.

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“This is a quick solution for those who have that option but I don’t think that’s the right way to resolve the issue. That just means that it will remain an open wound in Thai history and the Thai justice system,” she said.

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.

Observers say prosecutions under lese majeste legislation — which bans criticism of the king, queen, heir or regent — surged following a 2006 coup by royalist generals that left the kingdom deeply polarised.

The country saw huge street protests in Bangkok and a violent crackdown in 2010.

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David Streckfuss, an independent academic and expert on lese majeste, said whatever the court decides, the Chiranuch case will have “important implications”.

An innocent verdict would herald a slight widening of public space on the Internet, he said, while a guilty judgment would see “an ugly backlash” against Thailand’s approach to freedom of expression.

“As the evidence is weak and the prosecutors have seemingly failed to show malicious intent, a guilty verdict would harm the already tarnished image of Thailand as a beacon of democracy in Southeast Asia,” he said.

Recent trials have sparked fierce debates on Thailand’s laws, including over a 61-year-old man who was jailed in November for 20 years for sending text messages deemed insulting to the monarchy.

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A US citizen was handed two-and-a-half years in prison in December for allegedly defaming the king.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thailand’s new government, which is allied to ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and was backed by his “Red Shirt” supporters in an election last year, had done little to improve freedom of expression.

“The government’s assault on internet service providers sends a chilling message to webmasters and internet companies that they either censor other people’s content or face severe penalties,” said John Sifton, HRW Asia advocacy director.

Chiranuch, who has become a leading figure in the campaign for freedom of expression in Thailand, said she could not flee her homeland, despite the severity of the potential jail sentence.

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“Sometimes I feel afraid. I’m not brave. The most important thing is not to let fear take over,” she said.

Photo via AFP

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Russians to prod Putin on poverty and his personal life as his ratings tank

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Russians are set to ask President Vladimir Putin about growing poverty at home and tensions abroad during an annual televised phone-in Thursday, which comes following a fall in his approval ratings.

The leader is also likely to face a degree of grilling on his personal life, according to questions submitted by the public online ahead of the live show.

Set to be held for the 17th time since Putin came to power in 1999, the show starts at 0900 GMT and usually lasts several hours.

Ahead of the carefully choreographed show, more than one million questions had been submitted, organisers told Russian news agencies.

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Trump could turn on Hope Hicks just like Michael Cohen: Trump family biographer warns

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Trump family biographer Emily Jane Fox explained that she didn't think that the president would turn on long-time aide Hope Hicks, but then again, it was the same thought about Michael Cohen as well.

In a panel discussion about Hicks' testimony during MSNBC's Brian Williams' Wednesday show, Fox recalled that Micahel Cohen once said that he would take a bullet for the president. Once it appeared that Trump would throw him under the bus, Cohen began looking for a way out.

The same scenario seems to be happening with Hicks now.

"She works at new Fox, which is a company run by a Murdoch son," Fox said. "It's a company that's brand new. She's the head of communications there. And there are shareholders who would take issue with the fact that a senior member of this company is being put in this situation and being thrust on the world stage."

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Trump jumped to Speaker Pelosi’s defense in marathon Fox News interview

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In a strange twist, President Donald Trump appeared to defend House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity Wednesday.

Hannity began by saying to Trump that he believes Pelosi has lost control of her own party, as officials like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) continue to call for impeachment.

"I say Nancy Pelosi is the speaker in name only," Hannity told Trump, calling Ocasio-Cortez the real start.

But what Trump said was the unusual point.

"I think Nancy Pelosi probably has control of it, I hear different things, but I think she does," Trump said, appearing to defend the Speaker. "She knows what she's doing. We will see how it all comes out."

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