Thailand: Quash Editor’s Conviction for ‘Insulting Monarchy’
Thai authorities should quash the conviction and release a prominent magazine editor imprisoned under Thailand’s draconian law on insulting the monarchy, Human Rights Watch said today.
“Somyot’s guilty verdict shows yet again how Thailand’s ‘insulting the monarchy’ law has been misused to punish dissenters,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Instead of protecting basic rights, the courts are being complicit in clamping down on free speech.”
Somyot, 55, is currently Thailand’s longest-serving lese majeste prisoner. He was first arrested in 2010 during the period when street protests by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) or “Red Shirts” were taking place against the government of then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. On April 26, 2010, the government’s Center for the Resolution of Emergency Situations (CRES) put Somyot and his magazine on a chart containing names of individuals and groups whom it accused of being “anti-monarchy.” The CRES never offered any credible evidence to substantiate that allegation. On May 24, the CRES arrested Somyot and detained him without charge for 19 days in an army camp under state of emergency rules then in effect. He was released on June 13, 2010. Somyot then changed the name of his magazine from Voice of Thaksin to Red Power. The Abhisit government forced the shutdown of Red Power in September 2010.
Somyot was arrested again on April 30, 2011, five days after launching a grass-roots campaign to collect 10,000 signatures on a petition calling for amending article 112. Police charged him under article 112 of Thailand’s penal code, which states that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The authorities charged Somyot in connection with two articles that were written by Jit Pollachan, a pseudonym of Jakrapob Penkair, the now exiled former spokesman of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Jakrapob was never charged with any crime for these two articles.
Criticizing the monarchy is a serious criminal offense in Thailand. People charged with lese majeste are routinely denied bail and jailed in pre-trial detention for many months. Somyot has been denied bail 16 times.
While Thailand’s Printing Act protects editors from being held accountable for the content of others, the Constitutional Court ruled on October 10, 2012, that the restrictions on freedom of expression and the criminal penalties for lese majeste offenses were constitutional because breaches of lese majeste are considered as threats to national security.
In August 2012, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Somyot’s detention was arbitrary and requested the Thai government to release him and provide him an enforceable right to compensation in accordance with international law.
The UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression stated in October 2011 that Thailand’s lese majeste laws were “vague and overly broad, and the harsh criminal sanctions are neither necessary nor proportionate to protect the monarchy or national security.” The UN Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand has ratified, has stated in a General Comment that laws such as those for lese majeste “should not provide for more severe penalties solely on the basis of the identity of the person that may have been impugned” and that governments “should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.” In addition, the routine refusal to provide bail in lese majeste cases violates the covenant’s provision that it “shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody.”
Neither the Thai monarch nor any member of the royal family has ever personally filed lese majeste charges. During his birthday speech in 2005, the King Bhumibol Adulyadej stated that he was not above criticism. “Actually, I must also be criticized. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know. Because if you say the king cannot be criticized, it means that the king is not human,” he said. “If the king can do no wrong, it is akin to looking down upon him because the king is not being treated as a human being. But the king can do wrong.”
However, the police, public prosecutors, courts, and other state authorities appear reluctant to reject allegations of lese majeste out of concern they might be accused of disloyalty to the monarchy. Successive Thai governments have made lese majeste prosecutions a top priority for their administration.
“The heavy-handed enforcement of lese majeste laws severely impacts freedom of expression in Thailand,” Adams said. “The government should urgently initiate a serious discussion on how to amend the law and revise the enforcement of its provisions so that Thailand can comply with its international human rights obligations.”
Release Joop and Tai!
"I am aware and concerned that Joop and Tai have been arrested." Singtor
"I am aware and concerned that Joop and Tai have been arrested." Sunee
"I am aware and concerned that Joop and Tai have been arrested." Fabian, Zimbabwe
"I am aware and concerned that Joop and Tai have been arrested: please help Thailand" Ramirez
"I am aware and concerned that Joop and Tai have been arrested" Apolinaire, Geneva
"Dear Joop and Tai. I am watching the situation in Thailand closely and am very concerned for your safety. I know you are strong, and hope you you will be brave and strong during this period. I will write a letter to the Thai Embassy here in Wellington sharing my concern. Stay strong." Edward, Wellington
"I am aware and concerned that Joop and Tai have been arrested." Pradit
"I am aware and concerned that Joop and Tai have been arrested." Kijin
"I am aware and concerned that Joop and Tai have been arrested." Chotipanyo
"I am aware and concerned that Joop and Tai have been arrested." Kitahata, Japan
"I hope they will be released very soon, as well as Somyot." Pierre-Marc
"free somyot and his family!" Alan
"Please release them immediately." Robert, New Zealand
"I am aware and concerned that Joop and Tai have been arrested." David, New Zealand
"You must treat them humanely and with respect and release them!" Lulu, London
"Hi beautiful Joop and Tai, All around earth we love you a lot, like Somyot. You're good, really good and so right. The best for you all. You shine in the light with wonderful blue sky and sun." Alina, Chris, Max, France
"What is the charge against them? There is no charge! Or the 'charge' is the same as the charge against all Thais ... opposing the treasonous coup d'etat of Prayuth & Co. To be a dictator you need a nation of stenographers ... and that ain't Thailand, as has become increasingly apparent since the destruction of yet another popularly elected government and the destruction of its own constitution by Royal Thai Army Coup d'Etat Number 19. Free Tai! Free Joop! Free Somyot! Free all political prisoners! Free Thailand from the hands of the Royal Thai Army!" John, UK
"Dear Joop and Tai, my thoughts are with you at this very troubling time. I have heard of your arrests and this concerns me greatly as, I know, it concerns many people internationally and organizations including Amnesty International. I can only hope that you are being treated humanely and will be released soon." Charlotte, LA
"You are wrong to arrest these people. They should be released immediately. Meanwhile, I expect to see clear evidence that Somyot, Joop and Tai's human rights are being respected." Rosemary, Peru
"I am aware and concerned that Joop and Tai have been arrested. : I am shocked and appalled to see innocent people being treated like this. Abducting the family members of peaceful activists is behaviour associated with the most evil regimes that have existed. This is how the Nazis behaved, this is how Pol Pot behaved, this how Gaddafi behaved. This is how the Junta in Myanmar/Burma behaves. Is Thailand really going to become another Burma? I really hope the Thai military stops behaving in the this disgusting and illegal way, and returns to path of democracy and respect for human rights very soon. I extend my sincerest best wishes to Somyot’s family and hope they are released very soon and unharmed." Paul, UK
"Release Joop and Tai. Release all those who are imprisoned. Release Somyot and all political prisoners" Lee, Thailand
"I am aware and concerned that Joop and Tai have been arrested." Jaap, Netherlands