Court acquits “Danai Usma” in a case involving a social media post criticizing the absence of Covid-19 screening measures at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Evidences suggest that the defendant posted facts without intention to spread false data

25 Nov 2021 – the Criminal Court read the verdict of Danai Usma’s case, a graffiti artist from Phuket who was accused of Section 14 (2) of the Computer Crime Act. Under the account “Zen Wide”, Mr. Danai Usma published a post on 16 March 2020 that he saw no Covid-19 screening measures at the Suvarnabhumi Airport upon his return from Barcelona, Spain.

After witness examination on 5 – 7 October 2021, the Court set out today’s date to read the verdict. Mr. Danai, together with his wife and lawyer, travelled to Courtroom 808 to attend the reading. Observers today included representatives from Austrian and German embassies.

At 9.40, the Court read the summary of the verdict. Facts were heard that the defendant was returning from Spain with a layover in Abu Dhabi, before arriving in Thailand on 16 March 2020. He then posted a text on Facebook about not seeing Covid-19 screening personnel in the airport area, with an old picture of Suvarnabhumi Airport from 2019. The Court read Danai’s post content in full.

The plaintiff was Mr. Pongkiat Chayapan, director of the legal department of the Airports of Thailand, who also filed the complaint. Two airport public health experts testified along the same line that the airport had provided for screening points, designated aprons for planes travelling from high-risk countries, and personnel in charge of temperature measurement stationed at a screening point, through which the defendant had passed.

However, Pol.Lt.Col. Issarapong Thiparpakul, deputy inspector of TCSD who prepared the case file and evidences, testified that the CCTV footage showed that the defendant had passed the screening point but did not seem to notice the temperature scanning devices. The same was true for other travelers. Moreover, Mr. Alongkorn Sirisaeng, plaintiff’s witness, in his response to the cross-examination question, explained that the screen of the devices would face officers. Mr. Kunnapap Kongjuea testified that the screening measures at that time relied on thermal scanners to measure the temperature. Only when a traveler’s temperature exceeded 37.5 C, an officer would come to redo it.

In addition, the defendant attested that he had read the Covid-19 control measures announcement posted on the Royal Thai Embassy in Madrid Facebook Page on 15 January 2020, which explained steps to enter Thailand including a health questionnaire. That the defendant had traveled to the country without seeing screening personnel and/or thermal scanners was certainly a possible scenario.

As for the accompanied image, Asst. Prof. Dr. Janepon Tongyuen, plaintiff’s expert witness, answered the defendant’s lawyer that this image of Suvarnabhumi Airport used by the defendant was commonly used by the media to refer to the airport. Similarly, the defendant testified that the image was meant to illustrate the text only.

The Court saw that the disputed text was posted according to the fact without intention to cause public panic or disseminate false information. According to Section 59 of the Criminal Code, a person was only criminally liable when the element of intention was present. Therefore, the Court acquitted the defendant and ordered that the exhibit, one mobile phone, be returned to him.

In this case, the public prosecutor had indicted Danai’s case asking the Court to inflict heavy punishment, reasoning that “because the defendant had committed the alleged crime knowing that the import of such false data via Facebook, a popular social media platform with a large user base and public access, would be disseminated and forwarded quickly and broadly. This could potentially generate misunderstanding about the Covid-19 preventive measures at the Suvarnabhumi Airport, which was the country’s key airport with heavy traffic, and create wide confusion and panic among the public.”

After the reading, Danai shared his recollection of the period after the prosecution that “I woke up in panic for many months because I had never been prosecuted before”. In the beginning after he was arrested and prosecuted, people around him who had legal knowledge told him to prepare to lose. Some advised him to confess. He was wondering how he could confess when he did nothing wrong. He only posted what he had witnessed. 

“Usually, I would praise anyone who does something well. And I would scold those who don’t. Isn’t it normal to criticize other people? Even if my father did something bad, I would do it all the same”, said Danai.