Thailand: Release activist imprisoned for allegedly insulting the monarchy

A Thai court’s decision to uphold a 10-year prison sentence given to an editor and social activist for allegedly insulting the royal family continues the relentless erosion of free speech in the country, Amnesty International said. 

The Appeals Court upheld the sentence against Somyot Prueksakasemsuk for publishing two articles about a fictional monarch that allegedly defamed the Thai monarchy. He did not write the articles in question.  

“This is another regressive decision by the Thai courts – Somyot has been imprisoned for nothing other than peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. He should never have been prosecuted and must be released immediately,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.

Somyot, who turns 53 tomorrow, has been detained since 30 April 2011, and the authorities have turned down his request for bail and temporary release 15 times. His lawyers and relatives were not notified of this morning’s Appeals Court hearing.

“Somyot’s sentence should be expunged and all criminal proceedings against him dropped. The Thai authorities should immediately and unconditionally release him and all other prisoners of conscience. As a minimum first step, authorities must allow him his right under Thai law to temporary release on bail,” said Rupert Abbott.

“Authorities in Thailand have in recent years increasingly used legislation, including the lèse majesté law, to silence peaceful dissent and jail prisoners of conscience. There has been a significant increase in lèse majesté cases since the 22 May coup. This draconian law should immediately be suspended and revised so that it complies with Thailand’s international human rights obligations.”

The lèse majesté law prohibits any word or act which “defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent” and carries up to 15 years of imprisonment for each offence. It violates the right to freedom of expression as provided for in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand ratified in 1996.

Thailand’s authorities are increasingly silencing dissent and penalizing those who voice opposition against military rule. Somyot’s sentencing comes just a day after a Bangkok military court convicted four peaceful protesters for violating a ban on public gatherings.