Thai Journalist and Human Rights Activist Sentenced to 10 Years for Defaming the King

A Thai activist wears a face mask carrying a message reading 'Free Somyot' as she joins a protest outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok on January 25, 2013.      (Photo credit:  CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images)

A Thai activist joins a protest against the sentencing of journalist and human rights defender Somyot Prueksakasemsuk outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok on January 25, 2013. (Photo credit: CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images)

Imagine sitting down in a theater to watch the latest blockbuster, only to be asked to stand up before the film starts. So revered is the King in Thailand that movie-goers must stand while the royal anthem plays prior to every movie screening there, as a reel pays homage to the king.

Playing on this reverence to the king is the lèse majesté  law,enacted in the country’s criminal code. Article 112 states that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished (with) imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The law is also used as a means to suppress freedom of speech in Thailand. Since the coup and military ouster of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006, authorities are using lèse majesté to prosecute an increasing number of anti-government activists.

On January 23rd, a court in Thailand sentenced journalist and human rights defender Somyot Prueksakasemsuk to ten years of prison for publishing two articles which allegedly insult the 85 year-old king. The prosecutors claimed that Somyot was the editor of Voice of Thaksin magazine when he published the two articles, which were written by someone else. The articles do not mention the king by name, but the court said the “writing conveyed connection to historical events.”

The extent of prosecutions under lèse majesté is frightful. In 2011, under the Computer-related Crimes Act and lèse majesté, a court sentenced 61 year-old Ampon Tangnoppakul to 20 years for allegedly sending text messages which insulted the royal family.  He died a few months later in a prison hospital. In 2009, a judge ordered a closed trial in the prosecution of a Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul, a supporter of Prime Minister Thaksin, for a speech she made during a demonstration in 2008. Darunee filed a complaint that the closed trial violated her rights as guaranteed under the Constitution. Her complaint, however, was not sent on to the Constitutional Court and Darunee was sentenced to 18 years in prison for violating the laws of lèse majesté. During Darunee’s appeal, the appeal judge decided the complaint should have been sent on, and it was then sent to the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court wrote a comment in Darunee’s case, arguing that there is no conflict between a closed trial and the protection of rights and liberties. Finally, a new judgment in her case was issued and Darunee was sentenced to 15 years.

The king may be a respected figure in Thailand; however, the draconian prosecution of individuals under the lèse majesté law must stop. Somyot has already served twenty months in prison. His sentence violates the freedom of expression, guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Having ratified the Covenant in 1996, Thailand needs to uphold its international obligation and ensure the immediate release of Somyot and all prisoners of conscience.

Claudia Vandermade, Amnesty International USA Southeast Asia Coordinator, contributed to this post.

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4 thoughts on “Thai Journalist and Human Rights Activist Sentenced to 10 Years for Defaming the King

  1. Somyot is a propagandist for billionaire mass murderer Thaksin Shinawatra – his publication was literally titled "Voice of Taksin" and featured pictures and hand-signed letters from Shinawatra himself. Shinawatra it should be remembered mass murdered extrajudicially 3,000 innocent people in 90 days during a so-called "war on drugs." Somyot's publication Voice of Taksin made specific and frequent threats of violence against Thailand and its institutions in general, and at one point, went as far as publishing the addresses, names, phone numbers and relatives of judges ruling on Thaksin's numerous criminal cases. That is why he is in prison for 10 years.

    The man is NOT an activist, NOT a journalist, and NOT a defender of human rights. To wring our hands over this man and his well-deserved prison sentence is to jeopardize the cause of REAL freedom and human progress for those out there NOT in the service of a corrupt, mass murdering cleptocratic billionaire like Thaksin Shinawatra. Shame on you Amnesty!

  2. Thy should not speak ill to the king or to jail we would be, the least punishment that is close to death. Even though we the rights, sadly, those with power over rule.

  3. I was asked to stand up before the film viewing, just tonight, when the king's national anthem showing the life of the king and family came on.

    The girl rushed down the stairs in the dark with a small torch, just to tell me to stand.

    This is my first time, it neven happened to me before, but I have a choice, I dont need to go back to the cinema again, in fact it probably would not be right or correct, thai people need to show respect to their king and be seen showing respect, both are important factors in thai everyday life.

    This is a country where the king image and it's family members are all over the place.
    This should give sufficient information to visitors of what is expected from them, and don't push your luck, is it worth it ? Do you need to make a point ?

    Thai nationals can do that and is they right to decide what to do about it, we as visitors just enjoy the country and pay respect to the Thay Royal family when is requested from us.

    Ciao