Court Cites ‘Reasonable Doubt’ in Acquittal of Lese Majeste Suspect

Surapak Phuchaisaeng speaks to reporters yesterday outside the Supreme Court. After four years and two prior acquittals by lower courts, the court issued a rare acquittal of a lese majeste case against the 44-year-old computer programmer.

BANGKOK — A long-running lese majeste case ended yesterday with a rare acquittal from the Supreme Court, which found a computer programmer not guilty of insulting the monarchy due to doubts about the evidence against him.

After four years of trial and appeals in the case against 44-year-old Surapak Phuchaisaeng, during one of which he was held in prison, the Supreme Court finally ruled in his favor yesterday, saying there were reasonable doubts about the integrity of the evidence presented against him.

Surapak was arrested in November 2011 and charged with violating Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, which outlaws any defamation of the monarchy. The law, which is also known as lese majeste, carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Convictions under the offense have been growing increasingly more punitive. In the latest lese majeste cases, two courts 7 Aug. separately handed down a 30-year and 28-year sentences to a man from Kanchanaburi and a woman from Chiang Mai provinces, respectively.

Those record-breaking sentences drew condemnation for their severity.

“We are appalled by the shockingly disproportionate prison terms handed down over the past few months in lèse-majesté cases in Thailand,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement Tuesday.

The statement also expressed alarm at the lack of free trial for lese majeste suspects, and called upon the Thai authorities to release those who are currently jailed for “exercising their freedom of expression.”

In Surapak’s case, the court ruled that the evidence, namely a laptop computer he used, could have been tampered with before it reached the court.

Surapak was accused of insulting the 87-year-old King Bhumibol on social media between 4 and 16 Nov. 2011. But according to the judges, the laptop confiscated from Surapak, who works as a programmer, was turned on twice prior to proper examination.

“Deliberation on the weight of evidence concerning computer data rests on the credibility of … storage of computer evidence, which must be preserved in its original form,” the verdict read. “Because each time a computer is turned on, a change [in data] will occur automatically, and the information may be amended or changed easily.”

The verdict continued, “Therefore, the court grants the defendant the benefit of the doubt. The court hereby affirm the verdicts previously reached by the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeals.”

Both lower courts acquitted Surapak on the same grounds, but prosecutors appealed the verdicts.

Surapak was also placed in prison and denied bail throughout the trial in the first court, which lasted for a year and two months.

Speaking to reporters at the court yesterday, Surapak said he was confident that the information in his laptop computer was tampered with, especially the data that logged the websites he visited.

He also told reporters that he had much difficulty preparing his case in 2011 because he was put in prison at the time.

“It was very difficult for me to communicate with my lawyers. I had no tool to explain to the lawyers, because technical language about computers is very difficult to explain,” Surapak said.

Asked whether he would file charges against those who falsely accuse him of lese majeste, Surapak replied that he would have to discuss about it with his legal team first.

“I am pleased with the verdict because I have always insisted on my innocence. I am happy that the court allowed me the chances to explain my reasons. I thank the justice system. From now on, I will be able to invest and continue my business with a relieved heart,” Surapak added.

Surapak’s acquittal is a rare outcome in lese majeste trials. Suspects are usually forced to prove they are innocent of the charge, sometimes in a secret trial where reporters are not allowed to observe.

Related stories:

Record Sentences Today For Facebook Lese Majeste Offenses

30 Years In Prison For Facebooker Who ‘Insulted’ Monarchy


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