A 42-year-old artist was arrested at his art gallery in Phuket while in self-quarantine for the eighth day after his return from Spain. A charge was filed by the Airports of Thailand PCL against him for putting into a computer system false computer data after he had posted alleging that he encountered no Covid-19 screening at the Suvarnabhumi Airport. The police will apply for his remand in custody today.
23 March 2020 at 16.00, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) had been informed by Danai Ussama, 42, an artist that he was arrested by the police at an gallery in Phuketpursuant to the criminal arrest warrant no. 400/2563 dated 23 March 2020 on charge concerning “putting into a computer system false computer data in a manner that is likely to cause panic in the public”. After the arrest he was taken to the Phuket Provincial Police Office to process the arrest memo. He was then taken on board a plane from Phuket around 17.00 bound for the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) in Bangkok.
Danai under his Facebook alias “Zen Wide” posted a message on 16 March 2020 that upon his return from Spain’s Barcelona, he encountered no Covid-19 screening at the Immigration checkpoint of the Suvarnabhumi Airport, similar to 500-600 other passengers from the same flight and a couple other flights.
Picture courtesy Khom Chud Luk
Later Kittipong Kittikachorn, Airport Deputy General Manager, in a press conference rebuked the claim saying all passengers had passed through checkpoints or screening points with thermo-scanners and officers pursuance to the Covid-19 outbreak prevention measure. According to him, Danai had passed through such screening uninterrupted since he had no fever and the country from which he travelled, Spain, was not included in the 4 + 2 dangerous communicable disease areas as indicated in the Notification. Therefore, he was not stopped for questioning or additional inspection. The Deputy Manager further said that the post has caused damage to the reputation of various public authorities and he would consider launching a legal action for the injury caused as a result of the posting of false information into the computer system and for spreading fake news to cause panic in the public.
Upon his arrival in Bangkok around 18.30, Danai was taken to the Crime Suppression Division. His phone was seized by the authority as it was considered a device used for committing the offence. He was then taken to the TCSD where he was pressed with the charge concerning “putting into a computer system false computer data in a manner that is likely to cause panic in the public” pursuant to Section 14(2) of the Computer Crimes Act 2017.
The Airports of Thailand PCL has authorized a lawyer to report the case against Danai alleging that what he posted constitutes no facts and has caused panic in the public and undermined public confidence in the Suvarnabhumi Airport since it may have misled the people into thinking that the Airport has been negligent and employed no Covid-19 screening measures for inbound passengers on par with international standard. And it has, as a result, damaged the reputation of Airports of Thailand PCL.
During the police interview with the presence of lawyers and relatives, Danai denied all the charges. He insisted that what he posted was entirely truthful. The picture of the airport he posted along with the message had been retrieved from the internet to accompany his account about the Suvannaphum Airport. The picture was not posted purportedly to refer to the Suvannaphum Airport or the lack of screening points since it was a picture of the exterior of the inbound terminal and had nothing to do with the area of the airport referred to in his post.
Danai further said that the reason he posted the message had stemmed from his concern for his Facebook friends since it was not just him who had returned, but there were several other passengers in the flight who had travelled from a risk country. He simply wanted Thailand to make the disease screening even more stringent to prevent further outbreak.
Danai also asked the inquiry officers to retrieve footage of all security cameras at the Suvarnabhumi Airport that covers the time he refers to in his post to be used as his evidence during the investigation.
The pressing of the charge and the interview was completed around 00.30 of 24 March 2020 after which he was remanded in custody at the Thung Song Hong Police Station, together with other five suspects from other cases. The TCSD inquiry officers will bring him to the Bangkok Criminal Court for arraignment and to apply for his remand in custody at 11.00.
A freelance artist, Danai produces contemporary arts including painting and installation and has often displayed his works in various museums and galleries. His works are also sold in art studios in various countries. According to him, upon his arrival to Thailand on 16 March 2020, he could simply walk through the Immigration at the Suvarnabhumi Airport without being stopped for screening and without seeing any officials. Prior to his departure for Thailand, he had read from the website of the Thai Embassy in Madrid about the measures to contain Covid-19 and information for travelers from Spain to Thailand. It was indicated in the website that the Ministry of Public Health’s Department of Disease Control had designated Spain as one of the six dangerous communicable disease areas for the novel Coronavirus outbreak and people are advised to avoid travelling there. Travelers (Thai and foreign nationals) from Spain to Thailand would have anticipated disease screening measures at the Bangkok Airport. In addition, during his departure and layoff at the Barcelona and Abu Dhabi International Airports, he was subjected to quite stringent screening and he thought it would be the same at the Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Danai further revealed that when the police came to arrest him, he was self-quarantining on the 3rd floor of the gallery. His wife was coming down to open the gallery nearly noon time before she encountered the police. Since self-quarantine is being encouraged by theDepartment of Disease Control and Spain is one among the risk countries, and he was placing himself under the 14-day-quarantine in his own house for 14 days, (from 16-29 March 2020), but the police decided to apply for an arrest warrant to hold him in custody immediately. In this case, the police could have summoned him to ask him to answer to the charges after the quarantine period is over (as in other cases for example suspects being summoned to answer to the charges).
In addition, the police insisted on having him remanded in custody regardless if he would be granted bail or not. By placing him in the midst of other suspects at the Thung Song Hong Police Station and at the holding cell under the Criminal Court, it could make it possible for Danai to spread his Covid-19 from Spain to other suspects and could have led to widespread outbreak in the penitentiary system.