In the latest case involving Thailand’s strict lese-majeste legislation, a high-profile activist and former magazine editor was sentenced to 11 years in prison, after being convicted for defaming the royal family.
Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was condemned for publishing two articles under pseudonym, which defamed King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2010, while editing a magazine devoted to self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The latter was overthrown through a military coup in 2006 and left the country divided between, on the one hand, royalists and nationalists and, on the other, Thaksin’s lower-class supports. Prosecutors claimed in a 2011 report that the articles criticized the role of a fictional character allegedly representing the king, public prosecutors said in a July 2011 report.
Somyot has been held in detention since 2011, when he was arrested five days after launching a petition demanding a review of Article 112 of the criminal code, stating that those who defame the monarchy can be imprisoned for up to 15 years. He aimed to reduce the maximum punishment to three years and abolish the minimum one. Somyot’s magazine was shut down shortly before his arrest.
The activist received five years of prison for each article as well as an additional year added from a suspended defamation case from three years-ago. Nevertheless, observers believe that hewas punished more for his role in striving to change the defamation laws than for his two articles. The lese-majeste law prohibits any word or act which “defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent.” Activists, however, claim that the law has increasingly been used to silence political opponents, including groups supporting former prime minister Thaksin.
Although promising to review the lese-majeste law after becoming Thailand’s prime minister in the 2011, Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, has thus far failed to accomplish her promise, partly due to fears that the army might stage another coup.
The activist’s sentence drew extensive condemnation from national groups, international rights organizations and the European Union (EU). The Clean Clothes Campaign and the Thai Labor Campaign, among other labor groups, have expressed their discontent with the sentence. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, considers the court’s decision "a setback for the protection and promotion of human rights in Thailand."
The EU Delegation to Thailand condemned the decision as undermining the right to freedom of expression and affecting Thailand’s image as a free and democratic society. Amnesty International called for Somyot’s immediate release and criticized the decision as "regressive," given that the former editor was only exercising his right to freedom of expression.
Somyot’s lawyer emphasized he would appeal the court’s decision.
Earlier this month activist and comedian Yossawaris Chuklom was imprisoned for two years for a speech he made at a rally in Bangkok during the 2010 political protests in Bangkok, during which more than 90 people were killed.