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Thailand: Journalist Sentenced for Royal Insult

(Jan. 25, 2013) On January 23, 2013, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, a magazine editor and political activist, was sentenced to an 11-year term of imprisonment by a Thai court. He was convicted under section 112 of the country’s Criminal Code, which outlaws defaming, insulting, or threatening the King, Queen, heir-apparent, or regent; the provision is known as the lèse majesté law. The Code establishes a punishment of from three to fifteen years in prison for those convicted of the offense. Somyot had been arrested less than a week after starting a petition calling for a review of this section of the Code. (Cynthia Miley, Thailand Court Sentences Magazine Editor to 11 Years for Royal Insult, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Jan. 23, 2013);Criminal Code BE 2499, 1956 (unofficial translation as amended up to 2003) (last visited Jan. 23, 2013).)

The 11-year sentence is based on five-year terms handed down for the content of each of two articles Somyot had published under pseudonyms that were considered to have mentioned the monarchy in a negative way, together with an additional year from a different defamation case. The two articles appeared in 2010 in the magazine he edits, then known as Voice of Taksin. (Miley, supra; Press Release, Human Rights Watch, Thailand: Editor Convicted for Insulting Monarchy (Jan. 23, 2013).)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, expressed concern about the court decision on the day it was issued, stating that the conviction and sentencing of Somyot “sends the wrong signals on freedom of expression in Thailand. The court’s decision is the latest indication of a disturbing trend in which lese-majesty charges are used for political purposes.” (Press Release,Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,Conviction of Thai Editor Undermines Freedom of Expression: Pillay (Jan. 23, 2013).)

Somyot and his magazine are associated with the “Red Shirt” movement, which protested extensively against the government in 2010. (Miley, supra; for background on the political conflicts in Thailand, see Profile: Thailand’s Reds and Yellows, BBC NEWS (July 13, 2012).)

Human rights advocates have also denounced the use of the lèse majesté law in Somyot’s case. Amnesty International called it a “serious setback for freedom of expression,” and Isabelle Arradon of the organization said “[t]his is a regressive decision – Somyot has been found guilty simply for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and should be released immediately.” (Press Release, Amnesty International, Thailand: Release Human Rights Defender Imprisoned for Insulting the Monarchy (Jan. 23, 2013).) Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch suggested that “[t]he court’s ruling appears to be more about Somyot’s strong support for amending the lese majeste law than about any harm incurred by the monarchy.” (Thailand: Editor Convicted for Insulting Monarchy, supra; for a previous, similar case see Wendy Zeldin, Thailand: Political Activist Sentenced to 18-Year Prison Term for Violating Lèse Majesté Law, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Sept. 10, 2009) .)