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New York Times article

January 23, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

The New York Times article here

Thai Court Gives 10-Year Sentence for Insult to King

BANGKOK — A Thai court on Wednesday sentenced a labor activist and former magazine editor to 10 years in prison for insulting Thailand’s king, the latest in a string of convictions under the country’s strict lese majeste law.

The case of Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, 51, was different from previous lese majeste cases because Mr. Somyot directly challenged the law itself, saying it violated the right to free expression.

Thailand’s constitutional court swept aside that challenge last month and laid out the justification for the law, saying the king deserves “special protection” under the law because he is the “center of the nation.”

“The king holds the position of head of state and is the main institution of the country,” the court ruled. Insulting the king, the court said, “is considered an act that wounds the feelings of Thais who respect and worship the king and the monarchy.”

Mr. Somyot was not the author of the two articles that the court said violated the law – the writer, Jakrapob Penkair, a former government spokesman, has fled to Cambodia. But as the editor of the magazine, which was called The Voice of Taksin and is now defunct, Mr. Somyot was responsible for its content, the court said.

Similar to a decision last week, where an anti-government protester was sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the king, the articles never mentioned the king’s name.

The first article is a jumbled tale about a family that plots to kill millions of people to maintain its power and quash democracy. The court ruled on Wednesday that the writer was describing the Chakri dynasty of Thailand’s current King, Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The second article is a fictional tale about a ghost who haunts Thailand and plots massacres. The court ruled that the author was comparing the ghost to King Bhumibol.

“There is no content identifying an individual,” the court said. “But the writing conveyed connection to historical events.”

International human rights groups immediately criticized the verdict. Human Rights Watch said it would “further chill freedom of expression in Thailand.”

Amnesty International called the verdict a “regressive decision – Somyot has been found guilty simply for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and should be released immediately.”

The European Union issued a statement saying the ruling undercuts “Thailand’s image as a free and democratic society.”

The United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, criticized the “extremely harsh” jail sentence as a setback for protection of human rights in Thailand and expressed her support for moves to amend Thailand’s lese majeste laws.

Mr. Somyot’s sentence “sends the wrong signals on freedom of expression in Thailand. The court’s decision is the latest indication of a disturbing trend in which lese-majesty charges are used for political purposes,” Ms. Pillay said in a statement released in Geneva on Wednesday.

Thailand’s lese majeste law calls for prison sentences of three to 15 years in jail for “whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent.”

The court added one year to Mr. Somyot’s 10 year-sentence for a separate case where Mr. Somyot was accused of libeling a general involved in the 2006 coup.

Mr. Somyot, who has been denied bail since being arrested in 2011, was brought to the courtroom in shackles. His lawyers said he would appeal the verdict.

Ms. Pillay also criticized Mr. Somyot’s lengthy pre-trial detention, repeated denial of bail and his appearance in court wearing shackles. “People exercising freedom of expression should not be punished in the first place,” Ms. Pillay said.

His wife, Sukanya Pruksakasemsuk, said she was concerned about her husband’s health because he suffers from high blood pressure and gout.

“Is it reasonable to send someone to 11 years in jail for expressing something?” she said. “I don’t think so.”

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