Mark Zuckerberg faces 15 brutal years in a Thai prison.
According to the Computer Crimes Act of Thailand, a website owner is responsible for anything written on their site, not just the actual author of the content. So if anyone posts anything on Facebook that is considered illegal in Thailand, Zuckerberg could be held responsible. The problem is that even talking about this law in Thailand is an offense, so if someone clicks the "like" button on this article from inside their borders, it could mean trouble.
This is what recently happened to Chiranuch Premchaiporn. Her nickname "Jiew" might mean "Tiny" but she has a big and brave heart in her small Thai body. As the webmaster for the online newspaper Prachatai, she faces up to 70 years in prison because someone left some comments about the Thai King on her website that she didn't delete fast enough. Under the strict lèse majesté laws (defamation of the monarchy), one cannot say anything that might be interpreted as offensive towards the royal family without facing extreme penalties.
The offending comments were on an interview she published with a Thai man who refused to stand during the Thai Royal Anthem. She's now been arrested several times, her offices have been raided and their website has been blocked multiple times by the Thai authorities. The web forum on the Prachatai website last year has since been closed, citing the fear that Prachatai could no longer provide a safe and open platform for Thai citizens to hold discussions.
Out on bail, Jiew came to New York this week to receive a Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women's Media Foundation. At the ceremony she joked about hoping that her friends protected her things from the flooding back home while she was away in the US. Her joking demeanor faded when we spoke and she described how hard the delays in her sentencing have been on her. Like a prisoner on death row who gets a temporary stay of execution, the delays in her case has been a delay of the inevitable that she wants over. "I just want to know already so that it'll be over," she told me earlier today. She went on to speak powerfully about the greater implications of her case in having a free press in Thailand, but also what her case and ones like it mean for the future of the free and open internet.
An American citizen has already been arrested by the Thai authorities due to a link on his website. Joe Gordon, a Colorado man originally from Thailand, was also arrested under similar charges. In his case, it was a link from his blog to a book that is critical of the Thai King, amongst other things. In an interview he did with Jiew, he told her "I want President Obama and Hillary Clinton to intervene on on my behalf."
What if Mark Zuckerberg was to intervene on his behalf instead?
I imagine that Mark Zuckerberg is racking up the number of countries that he is banned from visiting. Especially after the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, many governments are starting to clamp down on the internet to protect themselves from revolution. Censorship and increasingly repressive laws against the basic human right of freedom of expression are unfortunately becoming a growing norm. It's best to defend these defenders of the internet and free expression if there is to be a future where sites like Facebook remain open to people. Five countries already block the site permanently and others intermittently.
Over the past year, Google & YouTube received three requests from the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology in Thailand to remove 268 YouTube videos for allegedly insulting the monarchy in violation of Thailand's lèse-majesté law. They complied and restricted Thai users from accessing about 90% of the videos. And according to technicians who work in the Office of Prevention and Suppression of Information Technology Crime, they have blocked around 70,000 Internet pages over the past four years, the vast majority of them, 60,000, banned for insults to the monarchy.
Facebook is the 3rd largest country in the world by population size, with an estimated 800 million users. Its sovereign, Mark Zuckerberg, is 36th-richest person in the USA with his personal wealth recently estimated to be $17.5 billion. Facebook's revenue is an estimated $4.27 billion dollars this year.
Thailand is the 19th largest nation-state in the world by population with an estimated 66 million citizens. Its sovereign, King Bhumibol took first place on the list of World's Richest Royals with an estimated wealth of $35 billion. Thailand's GDP is an estimated $590 billion, which puts it far ahead of Facebook. But with around 13 million Thai citizens on Facebook, that makes about 1 of every 5 people a dual-citizen.
The question is what is Facebook's foreign policy? Already, Amnesty International has named a Thai man, Wipas Raksakulthai, a prisoner of conscience following a Facebook post. With Zuckerberg in the same boat, why not draw the international media that prisoners of conscience deserve and see whether there is any way to help the Thai people uphold the standards their government signed onto with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and allow for the freedom of expression that's mandated in their constitution?
Jiew recently said that "free speech is not free of charge. Thailand might feel free, but you don't know and can't predict what will happen to your life." Facebook is free of charge, but the question is whether some of the proceeds will be used to protect the most extreme limiting of free speech.
The future of Jiew's freedom depends on the actions that will be taken between now and February when she is back on trial. The Computer Crime Act should be amended so that people are responsible for their own actions, not the intermediaries. This would be a victory for Thais in their struggle for due process and for the internet as a whole. People everywhere should do what they can to take a stand and fight for freedom of expression on and offline to ensure the innovations that have fueled so much good in the 21st century continue.
Mark, I hear the weather in Thailand is gorgeous this time of year. Perhaps you should plan a visit once the floods dissipate. I, for one, would "like" that.
Follow Mark Belinsky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mbelinsky