Mr. Maitree is a hill-tribe villager of Lahu decent, social worker, and local reporter. He contributed to social activities focusing on the youths in the local and also reports issues about ethnic groups. Maitree posted on his Facebook reporting that a soldier harmed some villagers of Baan Kong Pak Ping village on 31 December 2014, and uploaded a video of soldiers and villagers arguing on 1 January 2015. See the details of the incident here.
On 4 January 2015, Capt. Panomsak Kantaeng, a soldier from Baan Arunothai camp, reported an offence against Mr. Maitree Charoensuebsakul at Phunawai Police Station. He indicated that Maitree had shared a message on Facebook accusing soldiers from Baan Arunothai camp for attacking adults and children who were by a bonfire at Baan Kong Pak Ping village, Chiang Dao district in Chiang Mai, on 31 December 2014, and disseminated an edited video clip showing soldiers arguing with civilians. The soldier insisted that the accusations are not true and filed charges under Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act 2007 against Maitree as the soldiers accused him for allegedly importing false data to a computer system and causing damage to the military.
The hearings of witness examination took place during 2-4 February 2016, with observers from human rights organizations, media, ethnic minority working groups, and researchers. Six witnesses for the prosecution – five of them were soldiers – and nine witnesses for the defence including Maitree and villagers who claimed to be harassed were examined.
The main defence was the affirmation that a soldier did hurt the villagers, and not all of the alleged messages were written by the defendant. Electronic evidence was not presented among the evidence. Moreover, the defendant reported the incident as a local reporter and a voice for the people, and had no intention to cause damage to the military.
After finishing the witness examination, the defense lawyer requested to end the case within 15 days. The court marked the sentence delivering date on 8 March 2016 at 9.00.
Maitree’s case is one of the examples of the use of Computer Crime Act and offence of defamation by the authority. Section 14 (1) of Computer Crime Act1 had been used to litigate the Phuketwan journalists who published parts of Reuter’s report which stated that some Thai authorities benefit from the Rohingya people trafficking. Although the Section intends to prevent and suppress false computer data, it has been used in many defamation cases, sometimes as a mean to suppress online expression. The punishment for this Section is heavier than the offence of defamation in the Criminal Code, but is non-compoundable. There is no clause of non-liability or impunity, such as bona fide comments or criticism for public benefit.
1 Section 14. If any person commits any offence of the following acts shall be subject to imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than one hundred thousand baht or both:
that involves import to a computer system of forged computer data, either in whole or in part, or false computer data, in a manner that is likely to cause damage to that third party or the public;
that involves import to a computer system of false computer data in a manner that is likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic;
that involves import to a computer system of any computer data related with an offence against the Kingdom’s security under the Criminal Code;
that involves import to a computer system of any computer data of a pornographic nature that is publicly accessible;
that involves the dissemination or forwarding of computer data already known to be computer data under (1) (2) (3) or (4).