New York, Jan 24: The United Nations human rights chief Wednesday condemned the harsh conviction of an editor and activist in Thailand for publishing two articles considered to be critical of the monarchy, and stressed that this puts at risk freedom of expression in the Southeast Asian country.
Somyot Pruksakasemsuk was convicted of lese-majesty offences for his two articles that were published in his Voice of Takshin magazine. Lese-majesty, “injured majesty” in English, is an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a State.
“The conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of Somyot sends the wrong signals on freedom of expression in Thailand,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. “The court’s decision is the latest indication of a disturbing trend in which lese-majesty charges are used for political purposes.”
Pruksakasemsuk was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the breach of article 112 of Thailand’s criminal 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.”
Pillay welcomed and expressed her support for efforts made by some members of Parliament and academics that have proposed amendments to article 112 to address concerns related to the application of the law.
The High Commissioner also expressed her concern over the length of Pruksakasemsuk’s pre-trial detention, after his bail requests were denied 12 times by the courts.
“I am disturbed that Somyot has been denied bail and presented in court on several occasions wearing shackles – as if he were some kind of dangerous criminal,” Pillay. “People exercising freedom of expression should not be punished in the first place.”
In August, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Pruksakasemsuk’s detention was arbitrary and requested the Government take all necessary steps to release and compensate him in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Thailand is a party.
“Activists, journalists and academics play a dynamic role in fostering Thailand’s human rights culture,” Pillay said. “This reflects positively on Thai society, but cases such as Somyot’s risk reversing the important progress made by Thailand.”