AHRC Statement _THAILAND: Twenty years in prisonfor four SMS messages_alleged lesè majesté content

November 24, 2011

A Statement from the Asian Human RightsCommission

THAILAND: Twenty years in prisonfor four SMS messages

The Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to express graveconcern over the latest conviction and sentence of a personin Thailand for a crime of freedom of expression. On 23November 2011, in Black Case No. 311/2554, AmponTangnoppakul (also known as ‘Arkong’), a 61-year-old man,was sentenced to twenty years in prison for four allegedviolations of Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code and the2007 Computer Crimes Act. Ampon’s crime was toallegedly send four SMS messages to Somkiat Klongwattanasak,personal secretary of the former prime minister, AbhisitVejjajiva. iLaw, a Thai legal NGO, reported that the fourSMS messages were alleged by the authorities to containvulgar language and to defame the Thai queen and to insultthe honor of the monarchy. The precise content of the SMSmessages has not been made public by the authorities and because repetition of alleged lesè majesté content itself constitutes a violation of the law, reportersare unable to report the precise content of the messageswithout then becoming subject to criminal prosecutionthemselves.

Compounding the injustice of this sentence, AmponTangnoppakul is suffering from laryngeal cancer and had beenunable to access proper treatment during detention beforeand during his trial. There is no reason to believe thatthis will change now that he has been convicted, and, infact, depending on what prison he is transferred to, theremay be further concerns over his safety and well-being. Ashas been clear in the case of Daranee Charnchoengskilpakul,currently serving an eighteen-year sentence for allegedlesè majesté and who suffers from severe jawdisease, the authorities have no qualms about denyingnecessary medical treatment and violating the rights ofpolitical prisoners.

On 3 August 2010, a group of 15 police officers raidedAmpon Tangnoppakul’s house and arrested him. He wasdetained for 63 days of pre-charge detention before beinggranted bail on 4 October 2010. He was then formally chargedby the prosecutor on 18 January 2011 with violations ofArticle 112 and the Computer Crimes Act, and has beenincarcerated since then. The court refused bail on the basisof the gravity of his crime and the possibility of flight.His trial took place on 23 and 27-30 September 2011. Fromthe beginning, Ampon maintained his innocence, noting thathe did not know to send SMS messages and that the numberthat sent the message to Somkiat was not his number. The response of the prosecutor to this was to discount it,and note that as the IMEI number of the cell phone that sentthe messages to Somkiat belonged to Ampon, then he wasresponsible.

In the years since the 19 September 2006 coup, andparticularly in the last 2 years, there has been a vastexpansion of the use of both Article 112 and the 2007Computer Crimes Act. iLaw, a Thai legal rights NGO, notedthat while Ampon was convicted of violations of Article 112and the Computer Crimes Act of 2007, he was sentenced underArticle 112, as it provides for harsher penalties. Since thepassage of the Computer Crimes Act, the two haveincreasingly been used together to silence dissenting speechand intimidate activists and citizens. Article 112 of theThai Criminal Code notes that, “Whoever defames,insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent orthe Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three tofifteen years.” The relevant section of the ComputerCrimes Act in this case is Section 14, Parts 2 and 3, whichspecify: “If any person commits any offense of thefollowing acts shall be subject to imprisonment for not morethan five years or a fine of not more than one hundredthousand baht or both: (2) that involves import to acomputer system of false computer data in a manner than itlikely to damage the country’s security or cause a publicpanic; (3) that involves import to a computer system of anycomputer data related with an offence against the Kingdom’ssecurity under the Criminal Code.” The definition of”computer system” is noted in Section 3 as “apiece of equipment or set of equipment units, whose functionis integrated together, for which sets of instructions andworking principles enable it or them to perform the duty ofprocessing data automatically.” The way in which thislaw is written, and as this case evidences, means that theComputer Crimes Act of 2007 may be used to targetcommunication and speech using various forms of transmittingtechnology, not only computers per se. This convictionsends a clear message to people in Thailand: be careful,because your SMS messages may be scrutinized for criminalcontent and then you will be liable to a long prisonsentence. The lack of a definition of “security”within the law means that there are wide opportunities forabuse as the authorities can define any dissident orotherwise objectionable content to violate the”security” of the nation.

In a statement released by the Human Rights LawyersAssociation (HRLA) and the Ratsadornprasong Legal Institute(RLI) prior to yesterday’s reading of the conviction,a letter written from Ampon’s daughter to anotherdetainee who was taking care of her father in jailnoted:

“What we are most concerned about is ourfather’s mental fatigue and despondency. Strength isalmost gone already. Our requests for bail is always denied… But the suffering of our family is eased because of youbeing by our father’s side giving him strength…I know thatwe are not alone fighting for justice , there are many otherpeople who also fight injustice. They fight for justice andfreedom for the people who face injustice like us. We areall brothers and sisters, so do not get discouraged and keepon fighting for our father. We must be strong for people whoare detained inside. We never thought that this would happento us as it seem unreal for our family as Thais who greatlylove and admire the monarchy. We are regretful that thisinstitution is used for political purposes without themknowing it. It is painful for all us Thais because we loveand respect the monarchy more than anything else. We have tofight against injustices in this country because this kindof case is used as a political tool against small peoplelike us whom are treated like ants, termites and used asscapegoats.”

The Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to express graveconcern over this conviction and sentence of a person inThailand for a crime of freedom of expression — . Ampon Tangnoppakul has been sentenced to the longest periodin prison to date for alleged violations of Article 112 andthe 2007 Computer Crimes Act. Particularly given the weaknature of the evidence deployed against him, and theextenuating circumstances of health and age, this caseindicates that the Thai judiciary has become a place wherejustice is foreclosed and injustice flourishes. Whenmurderers walk free, as they did in the case of thedisappearance of Somchai Neelaphaijit, yet a 61-year-old mancan be imprisoned for twenty years for allegedly sendingfour SMS messages with alleged anti-monarchy content, it isclear than human rights are in deep crisis inThailand.

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls for the immediaterelease of Ampon Tangnoppakul and all others imprisoned forcrimes of freedom of expression under Article 112 and the2007 Computer Crimes Act. The Asian Human Rights Commissionwill continue to closely follow all other cases of allegedviolations of Article 112 and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act,and encourages all others concerned with human rights andjustice in Thailand to do so as well.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human RightsCommission is a regional non-governmental organisation thatmonitors human rights in Asia, documents violations andadvocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure theprotection and promotion of these rights. The HongKong-based group was founded in 1984.

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