US courts, Thai law

I’ve mentioned Thailand’s lesse majesty prosecutions. On it’s face, it’s not clear how Thai legal activists can respond to what many see as out-of-control prosecutions against the Thai elite’s enemies. That’s why I found it interesting to see a New Mandala blog post about a legal response to lesse majeste – but in a U.S. court! The World Organization for Human Rights has brought a suit against web hosting firm Netfirms, Inc., for releasing the identity of an anonymous poster on a Thai prodemocracy website. According to the complaint, the poster, Anthony Chai, was:

subsequently detained at the Bangkok airport, taken to the Department of Special Investigations, and interrogated about his postings on the website. After finally being released from police custody in Bangkok and returning home to California, Mr. Chai was then interrogated by Thai officials over the course of two days on U.S. soil at a hotel in Hollywood, California. Mr. Chai was later informed by Thai officials that if he returns to Thailand, he will be arrested and charged with violating lese majesté laws.

Unfortunately, I’m not caught up with U.S. jurisprudence on the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and other human rights law, so I won’t hazard a guess as to the outcome. Still, I’ll make a few observations. First, unlike in many ATCA cases, the company did clearly take an action that had an impact on the plaintiff. There will probably be no debate over whether the company knew or should have known that Thailand was prosecuting lesse majeste.

That being said, Mr. Chai, a California native, did return to Thailand after making the post and has been released from prison. In fact, the Thai government has warned him it would arrest him on future trips, so Mr. Chai would have to actively return to Thailand in order to suffer further harm. A judge might view this as too speculative to rule on for concrete damages.

Over the next few weeks and months I’ll try to follow the case and also get a better sense of U.S. law in this area. I know other U.S. internet firms have been sued on similar legal grounds (such as Yahoo releasing data to the Chinese government about political dissidents). In the meantime, for those interested in learning more, you can download the full complaint here.

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