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March 7, 2009

Thai PM sees need to review lese majeste law

His comments hours before Thai police arrested the webmaster of a popular online newspaper Friday after a reader posted an article considered offensive to the monarchy, reported the Associated Press.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said he would look into ways to amend the lese majeste law - which prohibits insulting Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family - to ensure clarity and fairness.

Until recently, lese majeste prosecutions were uncommon, and the charge was mostly used for partisan political purposes as a means of smearing opponents.

But in recent months, lese majeste complaints have been filed against a fledgling Australian novelist, a BBC correspondent, a prominent Buddhist intellectual and an activist who refused to stand during the playing of the Royal Anthem at a movie theater.

"The enforcement of the law itself must first be deliberated," Abhisit said, according to the state-run TNA news agency. He acknowledged there had been problems with how the law has been applied, but cautioned that any legislative reform would not affect current cases.

Later Friday, the editor of online news site Prachatai said seven police officers entered his office and presented an arrest warrant for his webmaster. Police inspected documents and removed the computer used by the webmaster, Chiranut Prempreecha, her editor Chuwat Rilirksirisuk said.

Chiranut was charged with violating the Computer Crime Act and then released on bail, Chuwat said. Police Maj. Gen. Worasak Nopsitaporn said she was charged because "a comment deemed offensive to the monarchy was posted on the Web site and was not deleted for several days."

He declined to elaborate on the nature of the comment. She was not charged with lese majeste, which mandates a jail term of three to 15 years for "whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent." If convicted of violating the Computer Crime Act, Chiranut could be imprisoned for up to five years and fined 100,000 baht ($2,770).

The 2007 Computer Crime Act bars the circulation of material deemed detrimental to national security or that causes public panic, and authorities have used it to block thousands of Web sites deemed insulting to the monarchy.

Prachatai, which was established by several respected journalists, senators and press freedom activists, describes itself as an independent, nonprofit, daily Web newspaper that provides information "during an era of serious curbs on the freedom and independence of Thai news media."

On March 6, Prime Minister Abhisit said he would push for laws that provide the media the needed protection to perform its functions of serving the public.

Speaking before editors from Asian countries, media entities and guests at the 10th anniversary celebration of Asia News Network (ANN) at the Peninsula Hotel, Bangkok, Abhisit said proposed liberal media laws are underway.

Among the laws being prepared are the amendment of the official information law, which will make information more accessible to the public; the enactment of the law on the protection of media professionals and a policy on regulating the electronic media.  

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