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Court should release journalist prosecuted under lèse majesté law

UPDATE: Call for magazine editor's release after trial on lèse-majesté charges (RSF, 4 May 2012)

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 30 April 2012 - ARTICLE 19 has submitted an amicus brief to a Bangkok criminal court in the case of Public Prosecutor, Office of the Attorney General v. Mr Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, arguing that the criminal prosecution of Mr Somyot Pruksakasemsuk under the Thai lèse-majesté law violates his right to freedom of expression. ARTICLE 19's brief argues that the court should dismiss all charges against Mr Pruksakasemsuk and order his unconditional release from detention. In doing so, the court should recommend that all lèse-majesté provisions should be constitutionally reviewed by the Thai Constitutional Court and repealed by the Thai legislature.

This brief argues that laws on lèse-majesté violate the right to freedom of expression as they constitute an unnecessary and disproportionate measure to protect the reputation of members of the Thai royal family. It argues that the prosecution of anyone under these provisions, in particularly in matters of the public interest - such as in the case of Mr Pruksakasemsuk, whose prosecution followed soon after his collection of signatures to petition for parliamentary review and revocation of the lèse-majesté laws in Thailand - is a particularly serious attack on freedom of expression. In support of these arguments, ARTICLE 19 relies on the decisions and statements of international and regional courts and authorities - including the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression - specifically on laws of lèse-majesté, as well as on restrictions on freedom of expression to protect the reputation of public figures/officials more generally and in relation to "public interest" speech.

Thailand has witnessed an unprecedented spike in the number of lèse-majesté cases pursued by the police and courts in the past six years, and today the Bangkok criminal court will also issue a verdict against Ms Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the web-board manager of the online news portal Prachatai who was arrested on 6 March 2009 during a crackdown on online media. If Ms Premchaiporn is found guilty, she faces up to 20 years in prison.

In recent years, international intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations, including ARTICLE 19, have expressed concern about the Thai lèse-majesté laws, noting that they contain no exceptions, contain vague language and lack any guidance on arrests and prosecutions. They have been used to prosecute individuals for having defamed or insulted not only the individuals mentioned in the lèse-majesté provisions, but also extended family members of the King, the institution of monarchy and the royal anthem. The penalties envisaged under the lèse-majesté provisions are very harsh (i.e. a 3 to 15 year prison sentence) and greater than those contained in most criminal defamation laws. Furthermore, these lèse-majesté provisions are also particularly susceptible to political abuse and have had a particularly grave chilling effect on freedom of expression.

BACKGROUND:
Mr Pruksakasemsuk, editor of the magazine Voice of the Oppressed (Voice of Taksin), was arrested and charged under Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code on lèse-majesté on 30 April 2011. Today marks the one-year anniversary of his arrest and detention, as he has remained in pre-trial detention since that date despite eight bail requests. Mr Pruksakasemsuk is also a labour rights activist affiliated with the Democratic Alliance of the Trade Unions, and is known for both his active support of the empowerment of workers and of the right to freedom of association in Thailand and internationally. He is alleged to have allowed two articles that make negative references to the monarchy to be published in "Voice of the Oppressed".

Download the full brief:
Thailand_A19_somyot_brief.pdf (283 KB)

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