Court acquitted Lahu activist of computer crime offence, considered that he understood the information to be true, thus not a wrongful act

On 8 March 2016 at 9.00, Chiangmai Provincial Court delivered the judgement in the case of Mr. Maitree Charoensuebsakul, a local reporter of Lahu minority, who was charged with Section 14 of Computer Crime Act for allegedly importing false data to a computer system and causing damage to the military. The military official accused him after he posted on Facebook reporting that a soldier slapped 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 more detail of the case here.)

The court read the judgement that, although Capt. Panomsak Kantaeng and SM.1 Manop Panwiset, the witnesses for the prosecution, testified that there were a video clip and messages accusing soldiers of harming people published on the defendant’s Facebook account, the prosecutor did not present any other evidence to identify that the defendant was the person who disseminated the alleged video clip and messages and could not prove that the defendant disseminated or edited the video clip as alleged. The prosecution’s documentary evidence only presented a set of copied messages without a source or the URL of the alleged messages. Thus, it cannot link the defendant to the offence.

The court also considered that importing data to a computer system is deemed a violation of an offence under Section 14 of Computer Crime Act when an individual who imported the information knows that the information is forged or false. Even though the defendant admitted to write some parts of the alleged messages, five witnesses for the defense, including kids and elderly villagers, testified that they were harmed by a man who came with the soldiers. The defendant disseminated the data, understanding that it was true, therefore it is not deemed an offence, and the court acquitted the defendant of the charges.

After the judgement, Maitree said that he was nervous, and was focusing on listening to the judgment when it was read by the judge. He was happy to hear that the court dismissed his case, and felt that the justice is not completely gone. Although the villagers still have not received the long-asked apology, but the court still provided them some justice.

He explained that the main problem for him being prosecuted was travelling to court. His village is located almost 100 Km. from the city of Chiang Mai province. At the beginning of the prosecution, he was scared, in particular during the process of conciliation which he initially thought it would be to discuss and understand the facts but it turned out to him being asked to plead guilty. He nevertheless feels that he learnt to be patient when facing criminal charges.

“I have reconsidered and contemplated whether what I did was wrong, or whether I regret doing it. But I am certain now that I don’t regret. Being the voice for the village is the right thing to do, and it may come with a price that I have to accept,” said Maitree.

The defense lawyer said that the court has considered the issues as mentioned in the defendant’s closing statement, such as the prosecutor’s evidence of data imported to a computer system that is not linked to the defendant, and the fact which several witnesses have confirmed that the incident reported in the video did happen. However, the court did not consider an issue of the intendment of Section 14 of Computer Crime Act which does not aim at an offence of defamation. The lawyer will follow the case whether the prosecutor will lodge an appeal.

Maitree, 32 years old, is of Lahu minority group. He is the founder of the Lahu Youth Protectors Group, to encourage activities with local children and youths as a mean to avoid drugs. He has collaborated with the Dinsorsee creative group for a project for the well-being of children in communities. He had been to a filmmaking workshop with the Friends Without Borders Foundation, and had made a few short films. Maitree had also been trained in the Thai Public Broadcasting Service (TPBS) local reporters program. He actively reports local issues such as stories and livelihood of ethnic groups.

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