Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the embattled director of prachaitai.com, has become the first Thai to win the Hellman/Hammett Grant from Human Rights Watch for her commitment to free expression and her courage in the face of prosecution.
"The significance of me being the first Thai to receive this award is an indicator that freedom of expression in this country has declined since the September 2006 coup," she said in a statement released yesterday.
Chiranuch also criticised the Yingluck Shinawatra administration for not "showing any understanding or intention to reduce the problem of violations of freedom of expression".
The award, named after US playwright Lillian Hellman and novelist Dashiell Hammet, who were both questioned by the United States' congressional committees about their political beliefs and affiliations during the McCarthy anti-Communist investigations in the 1950s, also went to 10 Chinese and eight Vietnamese activists.
Chiranuch argued that the Thai mainstream media has failed to provide a checks-and-balance mechanism, "voluntarily surrendering themselves" to existing political powers. She urged Thai people to guard the freedom of expression or face a situation where they become "brain-dead" due to the lack of independent news and views.
Asked by The Nation if she would have "fully cooperated" with the police officers in providing IP address for the anonymous posters on prachatai.com, provided she could turn back the clock, Chiranuch said: "Yes, I would do the same because it is the law, even if I disagree with it."
Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar, who has been prosecuted for sedition in his country and was one of the 48 recipients of the award this year, spoke at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) yesterday. Zunar, whose work is banned from publication, said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was tightening controls over the mass media.
"Not a single piece of news, opinion or editorial cartoon is allowed to criticise the government in mainstream media, print media or electronic media. You will read nothing in the Malaysian media except articles that praise the government," he said.
Phil Robertson, deputy director for Human Rights Watch's Asia Division, said at the FCCT yesterday that some of the awardees from Vietnam and China were afraid of publicly accepting the award for fear of trouble back home.
Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia Representative for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said governments across the region had become more capable of censoring the Internet and surveillance. He said a blogger in Vietnam recently refused to meet him for fear that the government would know about the meeting. The Chinese government is also teaching the Laotian regime to censor and control the Internet.
"No where is safe. Not even Laos," Crispin added.