Editor of Thai Magazine jailed for 11 years for insulting king
The Bangkok Criminal Court has found Somyot Prueksakasemsuk Editor of Voice of Taksin a popular Thai magazine , guilty of lese majeste offenses on 23 Januaty, , for publishing two articles in his magazine that prosecutors argued made negative references to the monarchy.
The lese majeste laws were established to protest Thailand’s king and other members of the royal family from comments or statements that could be deemed to damage the institution.
Mr Somyot was among those wishing to reform the law and alter article 112 of the criminal code to reduce the maximum punishment to three years and scrap the minimum sentence all together. As the law currently stands, ordinary Thais are prevented from having any meaningful public discussion or debate about the defamation law, or indeed issues such as who will succeed the ailing King Bhumibol.
The sentence handed out on Wednesday to Mr Somyot, who had been held in custody for a year and who was brought into court in shackles, has been widely condemned by campaigners both in Thailand and internationally. The articles had been published in the now-defunct Voice of Thaksin magazine.
“The courts seem to have adopted the role of chief protector of the monarchy at the expense of free expression rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch. “The court’s ruling appears to be more about Somyot's strong support for amending the lese majeste law than about any harm incurred by the monarchy.”
Somyot was first arrested during the street protests by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) “Red Shirts” 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 this allegation
. On May 24, 2010, Somyot was arrested by the CRES, which 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 Taksin to Red Power. The Abhisit government forced the shutdown of Red Power in September 2010.
Police arrested Somyot again on April 30, 2011, and 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 two articles for which Somyot was charged were written by Jit Pollachan, the pseudonym of Jakrapob Penkair, the exiled former spokesman of Thaksin. Jakrapob, now living in Cambodia, has never been charged with any crime for what he wrote.
Somyot was arrested five days after launching a campaign to collect 10,000 signatures calling for the amendment of article 112. On May 29, 2012, the Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 submitted a proposed amendment along with 30,383 signatures to the parliament.
However, in November 2012, Parliament Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranond dismissed the proposed amendment, saying that the constitution prohibits any law reform related to the institution of the monarchy.
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 threats to national security.
The United Nations 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.”
Human Rights Watch said that Thai authorities used Somyot’s pretrial detention as a means to punish him for his views. Somyot was denied bail eight times during the course of his 20-month pretrial detention. He was compelled to appear in shackles in hearings in four different provinces for the same alleged offense, even though all the witnesses resided in Bangkok. Somyot told Human Rights Watch that he had been transported in shackles to witness hearings in Sa Kaeo, Petchabun, Nakorn Sawan, and Songkhla provinces, during which he had to stand up throughout the journeys in an overcrowded truck without access to toilet facilities, aggravating his medical conditions, which include hypertension and gout.
- Asian Tribune -