Sept 14, 2011
Source: Bangkok Post
Prachathai editor Chiranuch Premchaiyaporn is among 48 recipients from 24 countries who have received prestigious human rights Hellman/Hammett grants for their commitment to free expression and courage in the face of persecution.
She is the first Thai to receive the award, which has been administered by the Human Rights Watch since 1989.
Forty eight writers, journalists, bloggers, a singer-songwriter and a cartoonist received 2011 Hellman/Hammett grants.
The Asian awardees were honoured at a ceremony at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand on Wednesday - 10 from China, eight from Vietnam, two each from Cambodia, Afghanistan and Indonesia, and one each from Malaysia, Singapore, Pakistan and Thailand.
Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's deputy director of Asia Division, said regional governments were increasingly attacking web portals that were critical of the ruling power - particularly in Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.
Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia Representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called for the Yingluck Shinawatra administration to seriously review the Computer Crimes Act (CCA) under many people, including Chiranuch, were charged and tried.
Mr Crispin said it remained unclear what constituted a crime under the CCA, as authorities have admitted there were no standards or guidelines of what could be considered a violation of the law.
The Yingluck government's inaction on the CCA clarification, even while allowing some pro-CCA views such as those of Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung and Information and Communication Technology Minister Anudit Nakornthap, would undermine democratic views, said Mr Crispin.
Chiranuch, who is currently on trail for alleged violations of the CCA and would face a long prison term if convicted, said she considered freedom of speech and democracy part of the same issue.
"Limited freedom is like not having enough air to breath and hopefully will be a timely warning for society to learn from and overcome the situation peacefully."
The webmaster of the shutdown Prachathai web board said the fact that she was the first Thai recipient of the award was an indicator that freedom of expression in Thailand has drastically declined since the 2006 coup, and the current administration has not so far shown any intention to reduce such a problem.
She said Thailand's hindrance of freedom included military intervention with conventional media succumbing to the ruling power and not doing the proper checks and balances, laws giving special powers to authorities and obsolete laws such as the Criminal Code's article 112 - relating to lese majeste - and the CCA under which she was being tried as manager of a web board for not removing messages quckly enough.
Zulkiflee Anwar Ul Haque, better known as Zunar, Malaysia's top political cartoonist at online Malaysiakini, said media control was usually by a corrupt government.
"Malaysia's internet is not just technology or hype but a political tool, and social media in my country is not just a chit-chat venue but a political forum, while the government is trying to present the nation’s image as a modern ICT hub," said Mr Zulkiflee.
He said there was more censorship in light of revelations of the Middle East situation. After all, the Malaysian government had already curbed media through draconian laws such as the Printing and Presses act, Sedition Act, Official Secret Act, Internal Security Act, and Emergency Ordinance.
"Prime Minister Najib Razak makes sweet promises, but in reality uses criminal laws to silence activists. With PPA, no single item of news or an editorial cartoon is allowed to criticise the government in the mainstream media.
"Now the government is widening the scope to include internet content," said the cartoonist, whose seven books were banned, whose office was raided twice, the printing houses for his books were also raided, and himself briefly detained.
Heng Chakra, Cambodian journalist and editor since the early 1990s, said past detentions and the constant threat of violence did not discourage him.
Mr Heng has continuously faced harassment, including threats on his life and criminal defamation suits filed by influential politicians and businessmen who his reporting has threatened to expose.
His two articles in early 2009 exposing corruption involving several officials close to deputy prime minister and minister of the Council of Ministers Sok An led to a 287-day imprisonment.
"Instead of trying me under the 1995 law on journalism, both the first court and the appeal court convicted me under the UNTAC criminal law for defamation and gave me one year," said Mr Heng.
Domestic and international appeals led by journalist and human rights associations and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party to King Sihamoni led to a reduction of Heng's sentence.