Thailand: Free Somyot and promote public debate on lèse-majesté

Paris-Bangkok-Geneva, April 29, 2014. Thailand must release labour rights activist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk and promote a free, open, and informed public debate on lèse-majesté, FIDH and OMCT, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, and Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) said today. On April 30, Somyot, a UCL member and the former editor of the Voice of Taksin magazine, will mark three years in jail. Somyot is serving a 10-year-jail sentence for lèse-majesté plus the enactment of a one-year suspended sentence for a previous violation in 2009 of the Printing Act, and is currently incarcerated in Bangkok’s Remand Prison.
On April 30, 2011, authorities arrested Somyot and subsequently charged him under Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. Article 112 states that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne or the Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years”. On January 23, 2012, the Bangkok Criminal Court found Somyot guilty of lèse-majesté for allowing the publication of two articles in the Voice of Taksin that the Court found were critical of the monarchy. On April 1, 2013, Somyot filed an appeal against his conviction. Despite the pending appeal, court officials have denied Somyot’s requests for bail 15 times.
“Thailand must release Somyot and all other individuals who are unjustly detained under Article 112”, urged FIDH President Karim Lahidji. “They are the victims of a draconian law that violates the country’s legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 112’s overly broad definition of lèse-majesté imposes unacceptable restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and prescribes disproportionate penalties for its violators”, Mr. Lahidji added.
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a State party, says that everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right includes “freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds.” In 2011, the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR), the body that monitors compliance with the provisions of the ICCPR by State parties, said that “all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition”. The CCPR specifically expressed concern regarding lèse-majesté laws.
On August 30, 2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found that Somyot’s detention was arbitrary. The WGAD called on Thailand to release Somyot and accord him an “enforceable right to compensation.”
In addition to Somyot, four other people (including two women) are currently incarcerated under Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. Many others have been released after receiving a royal pardon. Amid Thailand’s ongoing political turmoil, which began with the ouster of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a military coup in 2006, the number of Thailand’s lèse-majesté cases has dramatically increased. Under Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, any person can file a lèse-majesté complaint. In Thailand’s politically polarised environment, individuals have often used lèse-majesté complaints to attack and silence human rights defenders and political opponents.
“The Thai government must introduce urgent amendments to lèse-majesté laws. First and foremost, the power to file a complaint under Article 112 must be solely reserved to the Bureau of the Royal Household. Second, the criminal penalties for violators must be drastically reduced”, said UCL Chairman Jaturong Boonyarattanasoontorn.
“Somyot’s appeal should be reviewed on the basis of objective criteria without any further delay, in the framework of which he should be acquitted of all charges”, urged OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. “Moreover, Thailand should promote a free, open, and informed public debate on the reform of lèse-majesté law, in the hope that such a discussion would ensure that protection of the monarchy does not impinge on freedom of expression”, Mr. Staberock concluded.