A Taiwanese businessman told a Thai court Wednesday he is not guilty of illegally hosting a radio station that broadcast uncensored news to listeners in China, saying the broadcasting facility was set up by a tenant who rented his house.
Chiang Yung-hsin, 52, was indicted in January on charges of setting up the station without a permit for Sound of Hope (SOH), a San Francisco-based radio network that was founded by Falun Gong, a religious movement banned in China, according to court documents.
Chiang, who could be jailed for up to five years and deported if convicted, has denied the charges in a case that played out amid claims that Beijing pressured Thai authorities to shut down the station. The court set Sept. 26 to deliver for the verdict, according to Chiang’s lawyer.
Chiang and his Thai lawyer appeared Wednesday morning at Chiang Mai provincial court, 720 kilometers (450 miles) north of Bangkok, to refute the charges that he “possess and use unlicensed transmitter” and “setting up unlicensed radio station.”
“We stand a 50 percent chance being acquitted,” Chiang’s lawyer, Tawat Wipanguean, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, by phone after the two-day trial finished on Wednesday.
“Today, Mr. Chiang testified well with good reasoning. He explained that he was a mere premise leasee and he had no knowledge about the radio broadcast,” said Tawat.
Police filed the charges against Chiang alleging that he violated the Radio Communications Act and the Broadcasting and Television Business Act, because he did not have the necessary permission or license to operate, according to the lawyer and court sheet.
Both charges carry a sentence of up to five years and/or a maximum fine of 200,000 baht ($6,450), if convicted, the lawyer said, adding that Chiang could appeal the case if he loses in the first court.
Tawat said among the prosecutor witnesses were immigration police who brought up the compliant from Chinese authorities that the station broadcast Falun Gong’s propaganda to China and asked Thai officials to shut it down. “The immigration cited China as saying we broadcast propaganda radio programs to China to disturb them and asked the immigration to urgently investigate the matter,” said Tawat. “They labelled Mr. Chiang a (member of) Falun Gong.”
“But when we cross examined the immigration officers, asking whether they filed a formal complaint to local police in the jurisdiction, they said no because the request was a secret. That means the reasoning for the charges [against Chiang] is bogus, without evidence or papers,” Tawat said.
Falun Gong treated differently outside of China
Chiang said he fell into legal trouble because he rented a house in Mae Rim, a district in Chiang Mai at the request of his Taiwanese friend in 2017. He said he never stayed at the house.
Sound of Hope Radio is a public network that broadcasts news to China through shortwave radio signals in nearby countries, spokesman Frank Lee said in June.
Lee alleged that the Thai government pressured Chiang, who was not aided by a translator, to sign documents pleading guilty at the time of his arrest. He also alleged that Thai officials were pressured by the Chinese government.
But Thai officials flatly rejected the claims at the time.
“Thai law enforcement arrested Chiang without any pressure from the Chinese,” a Thai security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told BenarNews.
In August 2018, officials shut down the shortwave radio station broadcasting from property that Chiang rented in Chiang Mai, and arrested him on Nov. 22, 2018. He was released on bail three days later but ordered to remain in Thailand.
In January, press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) spoke out against Chiang’s arrest.
“This totally unjustified arrest deals a new blow to the freedom to inform in Thailand and penalizes Chinese listeners who count on this radio station for information that circumvents censorship,” RSF said in a news release at the time.
“We call on the Thai authorities to stop abetting Beijing’s operations against opposition media outlets and to drop charges against Chiang.”
RSF said it had learned that the Chinese government pressured the Thai authorities to shut down the radio station.
Thailand strictly controls radio and TV stations as well as prohibiting broadcasts in foreign languages, except for pre-approved items, to neighboring countries, according to broadcast experts.
Founded in 1992 in China’s northeast, the Falun Gong spiritual movement gained increasing influence as the fastest growing religion in the PRC and overseas over the next seven years. In 1999 the Chinese government at the orders of then President Jiang Zemin began a harsh and sometimes deadly crackdown on the sect, dragging practitioners from their homes and sending them to detention centers.
Outside of China, the movement was considered harmless and continued to flourish. It is often cited as an example of religious persecution in China, with practitioners and allied religious freedom advocates holding protests in major cities to bring attention to the situation faced by Falun Gong believers in the PRC.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.