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Thailand: where ‘insulting’ the king gets you locked up

August 16, 2013 Leave a comment

By Equal Times Newsdesk

In Thailand, any criticism of the King or a member of the royal family may result in up to 15 years imprisonment for the perpetrator. Article 112 of the Penal Code punishes any word or deed that “defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent”.

Activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk arrives at court in Bangkok, Thailand on 23 January, 2013. The prominent labour rights activist and magazine editor was sentenced to 10 years in prison for publishing a pair of articles prosecutors said defamed the country’s monarchy (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit).
Activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk arrives at court in Bangkok, Thailand on 23 January, 2013. The prominent labour rights activist and magazine editor was sentenced to 10 years in prison for publishing a pair of articles prosecutors said defamed the country’s monarchy (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit).
Anyone can file a complaint for lèse-majesté. The police must then carry out an investigation.

At present, the majority of prosecutions for the crime of lèse-majesté are brought by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) or by supporters of the “yellow shirts” (royalist militants), but recently, Article 112 has been used by people of every political persuasion.

The victims of these accusations include politicians, labour activists and even ordinary citizens.

Opponents to Article 112 point out that even the current monarch, 85-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej (who recently left hospital for the first time since 2009) has criticised the law acknowledging in a 2005 speech that: “the King can do wrong.

Actually, I must be criticised. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know.”

However, this did not prevent a sharp increase in the number of lèse-majesté complaints brought before the courts between 2006 and 2010 (from 30 to 478 cases). This increase is partly due to the political instability which followed the 2006 military coup but it is worth mentioning that in 2011, the number of complaints fell to 84 cases.

One of the most notorious trials in 2013 has been that of Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, the activist, journalist and former coordinator of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM) in Thailand. Somyot was arrested inApril 2011, five days after launching a petition that aimed to gather 10,000 signatures calling for a parliamentary revision of the lèse-majesté law.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on the 23 January 2013 by the Criminal Court in Bangkok on account of two articles published in a magazine of which he was Editor and that were considered insulting to the monarchy.

The court added an extra year to his sentence for another defamation offence committed previously.

Derisory evidence

To many observers, the weakness of the evidence and the severity of the sentence show that it was above all Somyot’s support for a legal revision of the lèse-majesté law that posed a problem for the courts – more so than the articles whose offensive nature vis-à-vis the royal family was never proven.

The first article was a story about a family that carried out massacres to keep them in power, the other was a story about a ghost that haunts Thailand and plans killings.

The court considered that the royal family and the King were being targeted by these stories.

But Dr Suthachai Yimprasert, a history professor at the University of Chulalongkorn in Bangkok told Equal Times that:

“It should not be possible to secure a conviction on the basis of such weak evidence. T

hese stories did not insult the King but in Thailand it is the court’s opinion that counts, not the strength of the evidence.”

Somyot is currently in jail in Bangkok.

“The conditions of his detention are marginally better than those of the other prisoners because he was sent to the section for new prisoners which is not as crowded as the others,” says Sukanya Pruksakasemsuk, Somyot’s wife and spokesperson for the campaign fighting for his release.

“Some sections house more than fifty prisoners per cell, many of whom suffer from contagious diseases such as tuberculosis. In Somyot’s section, there are ‘only’ seven or eight prisoners per cell. This is still very hard particularly in summer when the temperatures reach between 40°c and 42°c. He cannot sleep at the moment and his health is deteriorating.”

Somyot is holding on to the faint hope of bail while he waits for his case to be reviewed on appeal. But Sukanya specified that: “An appeal takes between two and five years and is limited to a re-examination by the judge of the legal arguments put before him unless he decides to call new witnesses.

“If the Court of Appeal renders the same verdict, we can then appeal to the Supreme Court, which could take 10 years! Somyot is really trying to stay positive but his mood fluctuates.

We all know that no one has ever been released on bail for this type of crime prior to a ruling, but he does not want to give up.”

In recent years, foreigners have also been convicted of lèse-majesté offences but they usually receive a royal pardon and are deported.

Several academics, writers and Thai campaigners for workers’ rights have left the country for fear of being arrested on the basis of this law.

This is the case of Junya Lek Yimprasert, founder of the Thai Labour Campaign.

An accusation of lèse-majesté was made against her in 2013. “Three of my friends were interviewed by the DSI and the Attorney-General who asked them questions about me. They were told that the interview was in relation to my article entitled ‘Why I don’t love the King’. Four workers’ rights campaigners are currently in exile on account of the lèse-majesté law,” she says.

A revered king

King Bhumibol does not fulfil any official political role but he is revered by the majority of his countrymen.

This devotion leaves the door wide open to truly ridiculous interpretations of Article 112.

Sukanya points out that: “Last April, a television talk show invited academics to discuss the monarchy as an institution without referring to individuals. This is all it took for people to go after the TV station and the show’s participants.”

The judgements handed down often make the Thai justice system look ridiculous. For example, Amphon Tangnoppakul was a 61-year-old man sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for sending four SMS deemed insulting to the monarchy (he received four consecutive five-year terms for each SMS).

Nicknamed ‘Uncle SMS’, Amphon Tangnoppakul always proclaimed his innocence, stating that he does not even know how to send an SMS. However, he died of cancer in prison on 8 May, 2012.

In 2012, a new petition to revise the law on lèse-majesté was signed by almost 30,000 people.

One of the proposed key amendments was that only people with a link to the King could lodge a complaint for lèse-majesté. It was rejected by the parliament.

In 2011, Yingluck Shinawatra – sister of the former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in the 2006 coup – won the general election by a landslide.

Her Pheu Thai party currently leads the ruling coalition which, despite being considered less royalist than the previous government, declared that it has no intention of amending the law on the crime of lèse-majesté despite pressure from the international community (among others, the Committee of Experts of the ILO on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations has urged the Thai Government to take the necessary measures to repeal or amend section 112 of the Criminal Code).

The political situation remains very unstable in Thailand and the threat of a new uprising by the army or the ‘yellow shirts’ – who are extremely sensitive to any perceived attacks on the monarchy – has dampened the enthusiasm of those in the ruling party who would like to see a loosening of this law.

International Lawyer appointed to Somyot’s case

August 7, 2013 Leave a comment

Robert Amsterdam has been appointed as Somyot’s international lawyer to support his case outside of Thailand.

Robert Amsterdam is founding partner of the international law firm Amsterdam & Partners LLP, with offices in London, United Kingdom and Washington, DC.

Over the course of his 32-year career, Mr. Amsterdam has represented high-profile clients in commercial, corporate, and political cases in a variety of countries. The firm’s core practice areas are underscored by a strong track record in countries facing rule of law challenges, which at times have called for media and government relations strategies to produce results. The firm is experienced in managing, litigating and arbitrating disputes around the world, with a history of putting together “virtual firms” of the best minds in their fields to handle complex issues and crises under the best possible representation within the context of both local and international laws.

Past clients have included the Four Seasons Hotel & Resorts Group, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and numerous mining and energy companies operating in emerging markets. In 2003, Amsterdam was retained by Amnesty International-recognized prisoner of conscience Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was once Russia’s most prominent oil executive, to defend him against political persecution by the Russian government. In 2008, he joined the defense team for Eligio Cedeño, a businessman and political prisoner in Venezuela who was later successfully released into freedom. Mr. Amsterdam serves as counsel to prominent opposition leaders such as Dr. Chee Soon Juan in Singapore. In 2010 he was appointed by the former Prime Minister of Thailand Thaksin Shinawatra to defend members of the Red Shirt pro-democracy movement.

Mr. Amsterdam represented former President of Zambia Rupiah Banda and his son Henry, with respect to unlawful harassment and persecution by the new government. In Nigeria, Mr. Amsterdam has represented prominent public figures, having developed an extensive network of political and business leaders that dates back more than three decades. Among other notables, he has acted for the former Executive Director of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), as well as the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja.

As a prolific columnist and blogger, Amsterdam’s writings have been published in the International Herald Tribune, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Fordham International Law Journal, among other publications. He has delivered keynote speeches for groups such as Chatham House, University College of London, Cato Institute, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and numerous energy, mining, and international investment conferences. Amsterdam has made several television appearances on networks such as CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, BBC, and Fox News. He was nominated to the “Hot 100” by the UK publication The Lawyer, and was named “Lawyer of the Week” by the Times of London, and was most recently profiled in the U.S. magazine The American Lawyer.

The firm’s members and employees are aggressive advocates for the rule of law and freedom of expression. Mr. Amsterdam has been engaged in ongoing assistance to a series of political prisoners and opposition political parties for many years.

According to the former British Ambassador to Russia Andrew Wood, “The word that best describes Bob is courage, both moral and actual. He raises questions that are not always welcome, and that is often the proper business of a lawyer.”

Amsterdam is a member of the Canadian and International Bar Associations, and is licensed as a solicitor in the United Kingdom. He earned his BA from Carleton University in Ottawa, and studied law at Queen’s University in Ontario (LLB).

For detailed information about Robert please click http://www.amsterdamandpartners.com/robert-r-amsterdam/

International Labour Conference raises concerns about 112

August 7, 2013 Leave a comment

The International Labour Conference in Geneva this year addressed the issue of forced labour of people who are detained in Thai prisons under 112 which violates ILO conventions. The ILO made a recommendation for the Thai government to amend the law in order to eliminate forced labour.

Full report ILC 2013 Doc

Bail denied again

May 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Dear All,

I visited Somyot & other 112 prisoners with EU representatives and 4 embassies ; German, France, Austria and Sweden today. Somyot told us that he was called to hear the rejection of bail from the supreme court last Friday 17 May 13. he is still upset about this and I did not talk to him much as too many visitors. I will visit him again on this Thursday before I give a speech at the AI.

If anyone want to join me to visit Somyot, please let me know.

Best Regards,
Joop

New York Review of Books Article

May 15, 2013 Leave a comment

A wonderful article by David Streckfuss came out in the New York Review of Books.

She sits calmly smiling at me across the lunch table: quiet, matter-of-fact, professional. Yet just a week ago, Joop’s husband, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, was condemned to ten years in prison for lèse-majesté—plus a further year on a related defamation charge. What was Somyot’s mortal insult to Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch?

A magazine he edited had published two articles: one, a tale about an unnamed family that kills millions of people to maintain itself in power, the other, a fictional story about a ghost that haunts Thailand and plots massacres. The court held that both referred to the king and his Chakri dynasty, and that merely publishing them merited ten years in prison under Article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code. As the Good Soldier Švejk exclaims in Jaroslav Hašek’s classic novel: “I never imagined that they’d sentence an innocent man to ten years. Sentencing an innocent man to five years, that’s something I’ve heard of, but ten, that’s a bit too much.”

At first it might be tempting to view Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws as a minor eccentricity in the exotic setting of The King and I, the self-styled “land of smiles,” a favored holiday destination for millions of Western tourists. But when you meet someone whose husband has been unjustly sentenced to more than a decade in prison, the smile is wiped off your face. As you look a little closer, you realize that all this is deathly serious. In a sense, the political future of an important Southeast Asian country hinges on that one small article of the criminal code. And these days, Anna, the governess in The King and I, might be locked up just for singing “Shall We Dance?”—let alone “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?”—on a YouTube video.

Full article here

May Day we think of Somyot

May 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Yesterday we remembered the political prisoners in Thailand’s prisons, including our friend Somyot. We believe that their life long support of working people – through their activities supporting the building of trade unions, the minimum wage and protections for contract and agency workers have led to their internment.

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Campaign continues in Thailand

April 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Here is a of local activists campaigning for Somyot’s release

There’s no law to charge Somyot

April 2, 2013 Leave a comment

New article about Somyot’s case here

As Somyot’s case to be brought to Appeal Court on April 1, stiff debate on the Printing Act predicted

by Lee Yu Kyung / Bangkok

She is gentle pretty, listening to patiently and soft spoken but articulates things while conversation. “I’m a hot temper, comparing to my husband” argued Ms. Sukunya Prueksakasemsuk however, wife of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, who’s been in jail ever since he was arrested on April 30, 2011. It was days after he launched a petition campaign to collect 10,000 signatures required for a parliamentary review of the draconian lèse-majesté law.

Somyot himself has become lèse majesté convictee afterward. On January 23, the Thai Criminal Court sentenced him 11 years in prison including one year for a defamation charge. The rest of ten years are for the two articles which are deemed to violate Article 112 (lèse-majesté). The life-long activist is now a decade-long prisoner. The verdict has provoked world-wide condemnations including European Union and prominent human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch.

“Everyone said I should stop fighting and Somyot should plead guilty and wait royal pardon” said Sukunya. She admitted the fight the case of lèse majesté, which is often categorized as a matter of national security in Thailand, is not an easy task at all. Yet she, let alone Somyot, is determined to fight. When asked if she ever felt regret about Somyot’s decision to fight the case rather than seeking a royal pardon, she straightforwardly replied “No”. “He hasn’t done anything wrong” she said.

Ms. Sukunya Prueksakasemsuk, wife of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk (Photo by Lee Yu Kyung)
The two articles that brought criminal charge to Somyot were not written by him. But they appeared on by-weekly magazine ‘Voice of Thaksin’ in February and March editions in 2010, for which Somyot was an editor. On May 1st 2010, Somyot has revealed that the author of the articles was Jakrapop Penkair, the former Prime Minister’s Office minister now living in exile. The Magazine has been forcibly shut down by the previous Democrat-led coalition government.

“Two articles were more like columns containing fictional contents. They were part of serial publication under the title of ‘Kom Kwan Kit’ (‘Think Sharp’). This column section was launched much earlier before Somyot assumed editor’s position in 2009. The writer for ‘Kom Kwan Kit’ was assigned to fill the column with his/her columns as a contributor. So, it wasn’t touched off by editor whosoever including Somyot, who respects freedom of expression.” Sukunya detailed.

It is crucial to note that the nature of this kind of serial publication is more free-styled by the very author. Accordingly it has enjoyed much of the freedom of expression than the other pieces such as cover story or general news, which items are normally pre-discussed by executive board and commissioned to staff writers or so. Therefore, it’s not always presumable that the editor Somyot has an intention to publish those particular columns which are in trouble now. In fact he has insisted that he did not intend to publish.

Nevertheless, the Judge on January 23 has emphasized on Somyot’s responsibility as an editor. It was reminiscence of another lèse majesté case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, a director of the alternative outlet Prachatai.com. She was found guilty for comments on website forum that she did not write, just but was lazy to delete.

“The accused is a journalist who had a duty to check the facts in these articles before publishing them. He knew the content defamed the monarchy but allowed their publication anyway”.

This is what The Judge for Somyot’s case stated.

Obviously, the verdict focused on ‘editor’s responsibility’ than that of the author, which indicates that the Judge intended to question ‘indirect accountability’. But that is not stated in the ambiguous Article 112 at all. The Article 112 reads :

“Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years”

If the Judge wants to reason the conviction of Somyot based on ‘editor’s accountability’, then it may be more rational to apply the Printing Act to this case. Undeniably the Printing Act, which protects editor from being responsible for the others’ articles, is strongly relevant to Somyot’s case as long as the Court would insist yet again ‘editor’s accountability’ than the direct person to defame Royal Family. However this argument has been ignored by the Judge who has insisted that the Printing Act did not apply to lèse majesté charges.

Ms.Sukanya Pruksakasemsuk (aka Joop Joop Joop), a wife of Somyot Pruksakasemsuk who’s sentenced 10 years for lèse-majesté (+ 1 more year), addressing at the opening ceremony. @ People Art for Freedom / Bangkok, Thailand 2013 / Photo by Lee Yu Kyung
“It’s like there is no law proper to charge Somyot, when it comes to editor’s role. If there’s no law, then you cannot charge anyone. This is guaranteed by our Constitution” said Sukunya.

In that regard, the Article 39 of Thai Constitution 2007 could be valued as it states :

“No person shall be inflicted with a criminal punishment unless he or she has committed an act which the law in force at the time of commission provides to be an offense and imposes a punishment, and the punishment to be inflicted on such a person shall not be heavier than that provided by the law in force at the time of committing the offense. The suspect or the accused in a criminal case shall be presumed innocent. Before passing of a final judgement convicting a person for committing an offense, such a person shall not be treated as a convict”.

Somyot has decided to bring his trial to the Appeal Court with a new lawyer Vasant Panich. Vasant Panich, the former National Human Rights commissioner, will submit more evidences and call for more witnesses coming Monday (April 1) while seeking a bail out Somyot, whose bail was rejected for 13 times.

According to the Nation report on Thursday, Vasant Panich was described as a staunch critic of Thaksin Shinawatra. But the lawyer said in that report that his decision to represent Somyot was a matter of principle, as he believed the man is innocent and should at least be granted bail. He was quotes as saying :

“I may disagree with many things related to Thaksin, but people can think differently”.

He further went on to say that he does not see anything that violates the lèse majesté in the articles.

Whether or not the new lawyer was a staunch critic of Thaksin, what the lawyer said in the Nation report signals that the Somyot’s case, which probably was politically motivated in the first place, has a turning point to uphold fundamental values of human rights and freedom of expression.

“It would be even more bitter if he gives up, because he is a person who has committed to democracy and human rights for his whole life. He has a strong spirit. No matter how long he may have to stay in prison..11 years or 15 years or.., it’s neither acceptable for him to give up, nor impossible” Sukunya articulated.

New request for bail

March 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Somyot’s lawyers to make the 16th request for bail on the 1st April 2013.

TV monarchy debate investigated

March 23, 2013 Leave a comment

Thai police investigate whether rare TV show debating role of Thai monarchy was illegal
http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/03/21/thai-police-investigate-whether-rare-tv-show-debating-role-thai-monarchy-was/
Associated Press

BANGKOK – Police say they are investigating whether a television show that featured a rare debate on the role of Thailand’s monarchy violated a strict law against insulting the royal family.
The ThaiPBS’ program created an uproar last week by discussing the role of the monarchy under the constitution and the controversial law that defends it from any criticism.
National police spokesman Maj. Gen. Piya Uthayo said Thursday that a preliminary investigation found some of the arguments made by two guests on the show might have violated that law.
Thailand’s lese majeste law allows for jail time of up to 15 years for “whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent.”
Piya advised the public against sharing the show’s content on the Internet.

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