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The Thai Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a guilty verdict against the director of an online news site sets an appalling precedent for freedom of expression – particularly online – in a climate where official contempt for free speech has hit new lows, Amnesty International said.

The Supreme Court today upheld the guilty 2012 verdict by the Court of First Instance against Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of independent news site Prachatai (“Free People”), for not removing comments from the website which authorities characterised as insulting to the monarchy. Since the verdict in 2012, Prachatai has suspended its online forum.

The Supreme Court also upheld Chiranuch Premchaiporn’s punishment of a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 30,000 Baht (USD830) under the Computer Crimes Act in May 2012, reduced to eight months’ imprisonment and a 20,000 Baht (USD550) for cooperation.

“This is a chilling verdict that clearly shows the authorities’ fear of allowing free speech online, and their desire to scare the media from both airing and facilitating political opinions. Chiranuch should never have had to face trial at all– the ‘offending’ comments responsible should not be prohibited in the first place, let alone when they are posted by someone else,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s acting Senior Director for Research.

“The verdict in Chiranuch’s case should promptly be overturned. Prachatai has a strong track record of providing the public with information and holding officials to account – this should be encouraged, not repressed.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision highlights how the Thai authorities are using and abusing a range of laws to enforce direct censorship and impose a climate of self-censorship. Since the military coup in 2014, internet service providers and media outlets have operated under increasingly sweeping restrictions. They are under pressure from authorities to cooperate and steer clear of comments deemed unfavourable.”

Chiranuch was among the first to be sentenced under the Computer Crimes Act. The Thai authorities have used the ambiguously worded law to lock up prisoners of conscience for peaceful online comment.

“The Computer Crimes Act is a flawed piece of legislation that has become another weapon in the authorities’ arsenal to silence dissent. It should repealed immediately or amended and brought into line with international human rights law and standards,” said Philip Luther.

Amnesty International urges the Thai authorities to desist from their current crackdown on peaceful self-expression on the web. Dozens have been prosecuted for comments about the monarchy since the 2014 military coup, while officials continue to threaten people with prosecution for simply “liking” certain Facebook posts.