Thai people attend an anti-government protest on August 10, 2020 at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand. Approximately 3,000 anti-government protesters attended the rally that is the latest in a string of daily protests, started by students in late July. Student organizations have been calling for the dissolution of Thailand's military backed government led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)

Thailand: Court ruling is ‘dangerous warning’ on freedom of expression

Responding to a Thai Constitutional Court ruling that the calls for reform by three prominent activists during 2020 protests were attempts to overthrow the monarchy, Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Research, said:

“While this ruling carries no sentence or fine, the sweeping implications represent a dangerous warning to hundreds of thousands of Thais who want to express their opinions or legitimate criticisms of public figures or institutions, whether in person or online. It could also pave the way for serious charges against the three individuals and many others, including life in prison or the death penalty.” 

“If this ruling was meant to instill fear in the people and prevent them from further discussing these kinds of issues, then it has backfired. We see an avalanche of hashtags, tweets and other outpouring on social media immediately after the ruling came out. More than 200,000 Thais have signed a recent petition to abolish Article 112, the lèse majesté law of the Thai Criminal Code.” 

“Ironically, the ruling came on the same day as Thailand’s rights record was under the spotlight at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. In previous years, Thailand has always rejected recommendations made by other countries at the UPR to abolish the lèse majesté provision in the Criminal Code. This signals to the international community that Thailand has no intention whatsoever to take measures so that its laws would be consistent with international human rights law, especially when it comes to upholding the right to freedom of expression.” 

“This ruling casts a shadow of gloom as Thailand opens its borders to international tourists. It is duplicitous for the government to appear welcoming of foreign tourists to spend their holidays in the country, while keeping Thai people in a stranglehold and suppressing their rights.” 

Background: 

On 10 November, a judge at Thailand’s Constitutional Court said speeches made in August 2020 by activists Anon Numpa (37), Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul (23) and Panupong Jadnok (24), had “hidden intentions” and represented an attempt to topple the monarchy.  

The speeches were made at the start of mass protests in the country last year that made unprecedented calls for reforming the powerful institution, including reviewing its finances. They gave way to broader discussion and broke with a taboo about discussing the royal institution openly.  

The court said they were not calls for reform and said that the King and the Nation are united as one and “the King cannot be violated.” It also ordered them and other related groups in their network to cease similar actions. There is no penalty related to the ruling, but analysts believe it could set a precedent that would allow prosecutors to bring new charges against the three, including sedition and treason.

It is illegal in Thailand to criticize the monarchy, and offenders face sentences of up to 15 years per count. All three of the activists are already facing charges for lèse majesté or “insulting the monarchy”, under Article 112 in the criminal code. At least 151 people are also staring down similar charges after participating in the youth-led protest movement, including 13 children.