Verdict delayed for Thai media site's webmaster

A Thai judge postponed a verdict that had been expected Monday for a webmaster accused of failing to act quickly enough to remove Internet posts deemed insulting to Thailand's royalty.

Judge Nittaya Yaemsri said more time was need to process documents in the case, which has drawn global criticism because many see it as an assault on freedom of speech. A new court date was set for May 30.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn — widely known by her nickname, Jiew — is facing up to 20 years in jail for 10 comments posted on her paper's now-defunct web board by readers she says she does not know.

She is being tried under Thailand's computer-crime laws, which were enacted in 2007 under an interim, unelected government that came to power after a coup a year earlier. The laws address hacking and other online offenses, but also bar the circulation of material deemed detrimental to national security, which includes defaming the monarchy.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said last week that the prosecution of Chiranuch "sends a chilling message to webmasters and Internet companies."

Prachatai was founded by several respected journalists, senators and press freedom activists to serve as an independent, nonprofit, daily Internet newspaper. It has attracted an audience of critics of the status quo, especially on the web board where the comments at issue in the court case were posted between April and November 2008.

Most of the comments were removed within one or two days, but one remained online for 20 days and another for 11.

Prosecutors say Chiranuch was guilty of "intentionally supporting or consenting" to post unlawful content by failing to delete the offending comments quickly enough. Her lawyers point out, among other arguments, that there are no guidelines on the matter.

Chiranuch is the first webmaster prosecuted under the law and her case could set a precedent for other media companies here.

The prosecution of Chiranuch has become a cause celebre. Last year she was one of three winners of the Courage in Journalism award given by the International Women's Media Foundation, and also one of 48 global writers given grants under a Human Rights Watch program for their commitment to free expression.