A US citizen who says he risks prison in Thailand has sued an Internet company for allegedly handing over his personal data, in a legal test touching on the kingdom’s tough ban on royal insults.
Anthony Chai, a Thai-born naturalized American who runs a computer store in California, said in a lawsuit that Canadian web service provider Netfirms.com Inc. broke US law by sharing his personal information with Thai authorities.
On a now defunct website, Chai posted anonymous comments critical of Thailand’s “lese majeste” law in which criticism of the royal family carries up to 15 years in prison. Critics say the law is frequently abused.
Even though he did not identify himself on the site, Chai said that agents pulled him aside for interrogation at Bangkok’s airport and that he fears imprisonment if he returns.
In comments to AFP, Chai said he hoped to draw attention to the “despicable” law on lese majeste and to test Thai authorities’ contention that their rules apply around the world and not only inside the kingdom.
Netfirms.com Inc. did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment. The company’s website says that it provides web hosting and domain names to more than 1.2 million websites around the world.
The lawsuit said that Netfirms.com confirmed in correspondence that it suspended the website Manusaya, on which users at Chai’s shop posted anonymous comments, in 2005 after complaints from Thai authorities. Chai said he was interrogated in Bangkok in May 2006.
Chai said he suffered “severe psychological and physical stress” during two days of questioning, in which authorities seized his laptop, forced him to surrender his passwords and told them they knew where his family members lived.
Chai said he was forced to write a letter praising and apologizing to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch who is revered as a demi-god by many Thais.
Chai said the colonel gave a yellow shirt and other tokens of the monarchy as gifts and alleged that he voiced disappointment when Chai did not offer expensive gifts such as iPods to bring back to Thailand.
The lawsuit said that Netfirms.com Inc. violated Chai’s rights under the US Constitution’s First Amendment which guarantees the right to free speech. The suit also said that the company violated California’s business code which bans the sharing of confidential information.
Allison Lefrak, litigation director at the World Organization for Human Rights USA who is representing Chai, hoped that the case would have a “broader effect.”
Chai is seeking an injunction on the company’s release of private information as well as at least $75,000 in compensation. Among his losses, Chai said he felt obliged to sell stock shares in Bangkok as he is afraid to return.
More than 100 international academics recently called on Thailand to review the lese majeste rules, saying that the number of cases has risen sharply in recent years amid political polarization in the kingdom.