Press release

Thailand: Prison sentence for journalist accused of insulting the King must be scrapped

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ARTICLE 19

24 Jan 2013

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ARTICLE 19 condemns the conviction of a journalist and human rights defender. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk has been sentenced to 11 years in prison under the repressive lèse-majesté laws, for publishing two articles that are alleged to have insulted the King. ARTICLE 19 believes this to be a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and calls on the Thai Criminal Court to quash his conviction immediately and order his unconditional release.

 Freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Thai constitution, but routinely comes under attack through the use of these draconian lèse-majesté laws. Speech that might be considered insulting or critical should not result in criminal prosecutions. The royal family should not be given special protection from such speech, as public figures they ought to tolerate a greater degree of criticism” said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

 “This is the most recent example of a worrying trend in the country of the increasing use of these laws to restrict criticism of the monarchy and to punish political opposition. The ability to voice critical opinion is vital for a healthy society. Despite an acknowledgment from the government that legal reform is needed, we have seen little done to advance that reform and we continue to see cases where people are censored and silenced for expressing an opinion” she added.

 Prueksakasemsuk was the editor of the magazine Voice of Taksin (“Voice of the Oppressed”) and a pro-democracy activist. He was arrested in April 2011 for publishing two articles, both written by someone else, and for launching a petition to collect signatures calling for a parliamentary review of the lèse-majesté law.

 ARTICLE 19 has consistently campaigned and raised concerns about the Thai lèse-majesté laws, noting that they contain no exceptions, vague language and lack any guidance on arrests and prosecutions.

 Under Article 112 of Thailand’s Penal Code, a lèse-majesté violation carries a maximum of fifteen years imprisonment for those found guilty of defaming, insulting or threatening the King and his family.

 Thailand has witnessed an unprecedented spike in the number of cases under the lèse-majesté  in the past six years.

 In May 2012, Amphon Tangnoppaku, also known as Ar Kong or ‘Uncle SMS’, a 61-year old grandfather, died in prison whilst serving a 20-year prison sentence for sending four text messages deemed as insulting against the Queen of Thailand.

 Weeks after his death, respected online media editor and human rights activist, Chiranuch Premchaipron, was given an eight-month suspended jail sentence for allowing third-party comments deemed offensive to the monarchy to be posted on an online forum she moderates.

 In October 2011, two weeks after the country underwent its first United Nations human rights review, the Thai Foreign Ministry admitted that enforcement of lèse-majesté law has affected people’s freedom of expression.

 ARTICLE 19 calls for the Thai authorities to overturn Prueksakasemsuk’s conviction and to immediately release him from prison.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Thai government to stand by their assurances of legal reform and to repeal laws that violate freedom of expression.