Woman acquitted of lese majeste in historic case

Woman acquitted of lese majeste in historic case

The Supreme Court on Tuesday acquitted Noppawan Tang-udomsuk of lese majeste and computer crime charges in a historic case that will set a precedent for similar cases in the future.

The case is the first ever in which a defendant of such grave charges fought to the end. In other similar cases, defendants have been advised to plead guilty so the penalties are halved.

The Supreme Court also on Tuesday set a precedent with the ruling that "an IP address is no proof the defendant was linked to the offensive post".

An IP address is a set of numbers assigned to each device in a computer network that uses the internet protocol for communication.

The court also said even some of the plaintiff witnesses questioned the assumption that an IP address could lead back to the identity of an internet user.

Tuesday's ruling reversed the Appeals Court's decision that sentenced Ms Noppawan to five years in jail.

Ms Noppawan was accused of writing lese majeste posts on Prachatai.com webboard in 2008, a crime under Section 112 of the Criminal Code and Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act.

Prosecutors filed the charges in April 2009 and the heart of the court battle was whether an identity can be proved by an IP address.

The plaintiff used the IP address and phone connection records as evidence. 

The defendant insisted she was not the poster, saying her name appeared only as the internet subscriber.

She explained her house also served as a small factory, with several PCs and many people accessing the internet from them.

The court of first instance dismissed the case on Jan 31, 2011. It said there were several PCs at the scene but it was not clear which one had been used to send the post. Several employees at the place had also used the internet under the username and password of the defendant.

Besides, there was no evidence of the post in the PC seized from the defendant and defendant witnesses said IP addresses could be changed easily.

In October 2013, the Appeal Court reversed the ruling, believing a plaintiff witness from a government agency who insisted the IP address of the poster matched that of the defendant's notebook.

He also claimed changing the IP address and hacking into other computers using the defendant's IP address was no small feat, especially when one would need a username and password of the defendant when posting the message.

The Appeals Court believed him and sentenced Ms Noppawan to five years in prison.

During the trial, Ms Noppawan was detained for 10 days before the court approved bail. In the Supreme Court level, she was granted bail with surety of a land deed worth 1 million baht.

The Supreme Court initially set Sept 11 to deliver its verdict, but Ms Noppawan did not show up on that day. The court issued a warrant for her arrest, confiscated the 1-million-baht surety, and rescheduled the verdict hearing for Tuesday.

Ms Noppawan again failed to appear before the court on Tuesday.

The case was also used to prosecute Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of Prachatai.com, under Section 15 of the computer crime law, for failing to remove the illegal post soon enough.

The first court sentenced Ms Chiranuch to a suspended 8-month jail term and a fine of 20,000 baht. The Appeals Court upheld the ruling. The case is now in the Supreme court.

Prachatai.com closed its webboard in July 2010, shortly after the case. 

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