First of all, sorry for the lack of posts, despite the huge amount of law-related news from the Philippines and other parts of SEA. I was in Myanmar last month, and between a slow internet connection and being busy with meetings, I didn’t have much time to post. However, I did obtain a copy of the Constitutional Tribunal’s 2011 decisions and learned a few interesting things about the court.
Until I have time to write about that trip, here is a very in-depth article about the Thai Constitutional Court’s recent decision on a lesse majeste case. Elizabeth Fitzgerald tries to understand the court’s reasoning for dismissing the petitioner’s challenge against the constitutionality of the lesse majeste laws. Unfortunately, the court’s reasoning is still somewhat unclear after having read the article, but I guess that is Ms. Fitzgerald’s point.
I’ve already posted about a few of the ongoing lesse majeste cases in Thailand. What makes Chiranuch Premchaiporn’s case worth mentioning is that there’s some hope she might win. The judge said several times that this case was “nothing” or “no big deal,” strongly implying that he saw no grounds for the prosecution. I’m not that familiar with how judges interact with lawyers and defendants in the courtroom, but those seem like pretty informal comments. New Mandala posted more earlier today.
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.
The Thai Constitutional Court recently affirmed a decision to hold a lesse majeste prosecution in camera
. On its face, this seems to violate Articles 29 and 40 of the 2007 Constitution, which guarantee a right to a public trial. The Court justified the restriction as only used to the extent necessary. However, it’s not quite clear what is necessary about it? Is the court worried about public repetition of libel? Are in camera
trials the next phase in Thai judicial politics? The New Mandala
blog provides an excellent legal analysis here