Thailand lese majeste convictions assault on freedom

A guilty verdict in Thailand today against two activists involved in a play deemed to have insulted the monarchy should be overturned immediately, and points to an ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression by the military government, Amnesty International said.

A criminal court in Bangkok today found Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong guilty of violating Thailand’s lèse-majesté law over their involvement in staging a play about a fictional monarch, “Wolf Bride”, at Thammasat University in October 2013. They were sentenced to two and half years in prison.

The pair had pleaded guilty to the charges in December 2014. Both have been held in prison for more than six months already, having been denied bail on numerous occasions.

“This is an assault on freedom of expression. It is appalling that Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong have been jailed just for staging a play. Since taking power last year, Thailand’s military authorities have made unprecedented use of the lèse-majesté law to silence and target critics who are simply peacefully exercising their human rights,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Research Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“The pair should never have had to stand trial in the first place and the verdict should be overturned and sentences expunged. Their guilty plea should not be considered as an admission of criminal responsibility as the courts regularly reduce sentences for defendants who have pleaded guilty.”

Lèse-majesté suspects are routinely denied bail, on the pretext that their cases are matters of “national security”. Magazine editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was arrested in 2011 and convicted on lèse-majesté charges in January 2013. He has been denied 16 separate bail requests, including during his appeal.

“Amnesty International considers all those who have been jailed solely for peacefully expressing their opinions to be prisoners of conscience, who should be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Rupert Abbott.

“The lèse majesté law should be amended so that it complies with Thailand’s international legal obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”