” The Supreme Court’s decision to reduce Somyot’s jail sentence is too little, too late. Despite displaying a façade of compassion, the court should have made a just decision and acquitted Somyot of a crime he did not commit,” said FIDH President Dimitris Christopoulos.
Somyot, 55, is currently the longest-serving lèse-majesté detainee. He remains incarcerated in the Bangkok Remand Prison, and will now have to serve the remaining two months and five days of his sentence, in addition to one more year, which stemmed from an earlier sentence for defamation in another case. The court justified the sentence reduction in consideration of Somyot’s age, the fact that he did not write the articles with lèse-majesté content, and the lengthy amount of time he had already spent in prison.
“We deplore today’s harsh sentence of Somyot, who should have never spent a day in jail under a draconian law that curtails freedom of opinion and expression. He should be released immediately and unconditionally,” said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.
A former labour rights activist and magazine editor, Somyot Phrueksakasemsuk was arrested on April 30, 2011, five days after he launched a petition campaign to collect 10,000 signatures required for a parliamentary review of Article 112 of the Criminal Code.
Several United Nations (UN) human rights monitoring bodies have voiced concern over Somyot’s deprivation of liberty. In an opinion issued on August 30, 2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) affirmed that Somyot’s detention was arbitrary, and called on Thai authorities to release Somyot and award him adequate compensation.
On January 23, 2013, the Bangkok Criminal Court sentenced him to 10 years in prison on two counts of lèse-majesté.
On September 19, 2014, the Court of Appeals upheld the Bangkok Criminal Court’s lèse-majesté conviction of Somyot. The Court of Appeals failed to notify Somyot, his lawyer, and his family that the hearing would take place on that day. On November 19, 2014, Somyot filed an appeal to the Supreme Court against his conviction. Somyot unsuccessfully petitioned for bail 16 times – the last time being in November 2014.
Somyot’s conviction and detention do not comply with Thailand’s international legal obligations. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a State party, states 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 its General Comment on Article 19, the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR), the body that monitors state parties’ compliance with the provisions of the ICCPR, affirmed 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 and stated that “imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty” for defamation.