At 12 noon on Saturday, 30 April 2011, Somyos Pruksakasemsuk was arrested in Aranyaprathet province. He was arrested on allegations of violating Article 112, the lese majeste law. Kept in jail until his trial, often in chains and cages when he made court appearances, on 23 December 2013, Somyos was sentenced to 5 years on each of two lese majeste charges, with an extra year added from a previous suspended sentence for insulting General Saprang Kalayanamit, a leader of the 2006 royalist coup and an activist on lese majeste.
On 30 April 2011, Somyos was arrested at the border as he was trying to cross into Cambodia. There was no indication that Somyos was fleeing the country. He was transported to Bangkok. This arrest took place just days after Somyos launched a campaign against lese majeste. Requests for bail were denied.
The police asked the court to grant a request from the Department Special Investigation to hold him for ten days so that he could not “tamper with the evidence against him.” Given that the evidence related to already published material, widely available, it is unclear how he might have “tampered” with it.
Somyos was the editor of the bi-monthly Voice of Taksin (which was banned in 2010 and which was subsequently replaced by Red Power magazine). The former magazine published the allegedly offending material. Somyos had earlier been arrested following the crackdown on red shirts at Rajaprasong and held for three weeks. During the news conference he gave on 21 May 2010, he called for a halt to “any threatening act against all mass media.” At the end of that news conference he turned himself in to the authorities. His arrest for lese majeste is another classic example of how the law is used to target and silence political opponents. Bail was refused.
While in jail, Somyos was refused bail many times. Late in July 2011 he was formally charged. His charges may be seen in this PDF in ไทย or this unofficial translation in English (Warning: readers should note that this document includes reproductions of the material alleged to be in breach of the lese majeste law. Downloading it and/or distributing it may lead to a similar charge of lese majeste). He was refused bail for an 8th time soon after his charging. A 9th bail request was also refused after his trial began in November 2011.
During his trial, shackled and caged, Somyos was dragged around the country for court appearances in several provinces where, in one case, no witness even showed up, causing the court appearance to be cancelled. This and the repeated refusal of bail represents a form of torture.
The last day of the Somyos lese majeste trial was on 4 May 2012. Following the trial, Somyos “said that he was satisfied with all the hearings of both sides. He thanked everybody who had come to give him moral support, including the witnesses who had testified with facts. He considered that the testimony of several witnesses would also benefit other similar cases. He hopes that everybody will keep on fighting together.”
A verdict was not expected until September 2012, and was delayed until after the Constitutional Court heard a case where his lawyers challenged the constitutionality of aspects of the lese majeste law and its use.
On 18 May 2012, the Constitutional Court dismissed his appeal on whether the lese majeste law was constitutional under the 2007 military-backed constitution. Prachatai states that: “The Constitutional Court said that the complainant had not exhausted the means to exercise his rights in regards to making his complaint, so according to Section 212 of the constitution and the court’s rules, the complaint was dismissed.” That seems an odd way to interpret the legality of the law, but this court is politicized and royalist.
His lawyers were back in the Constitutional Court in an attempt to have the constitutionality of the lese majeste law tested. As expected, in October 2012, his appeals were rejected by the political court.
In late August 2012, the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was asked to provide an opinion on the detention of Somyos without bail. In mid-October it issued an Opinion, stating that:
The deprivation of liberty of Mr Prueksakasemsuk, being in contravention of Articles 19 of the UDHR [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] and 19 (2) of the ICCPR [International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights], is arbitrary, and falls in categories II of the categories applicable to the cases submitted to the Working Group.
As a result of the Opinion rendered, the Working Group requests the Government to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of Mr Prueksaksemsuk and bring it into conformity with the standards and principles set forth in the ICCPR.
The Working Group believes that, taking into account all circumstances of the case, the adequate remedy would be to release Mr Prueksakasemsuk and accord him and enforceable right to compensation pursuant to Article 9(5) of the ICCPR.
The full Opinion is available here as a PDF.
This was good news for Somyos and for all others charged and detained under this draconian and political law that has long been used to lock up opponents, limit free speech and intimidate citizens. The Opinion saw no action from the Yingluck Shinawatra government as it adopted a political strategy that means it is timid and cowed before the conservative royalist elite.
His delayed verdict was scheduled for 19 December 2012. When the court convened, however, no verdict was given and the judges read out a lengthy and ultimately inane explanation of the Constitution Court’s ruling that the Article 112 is not contrary to the constitution. It clearly is in breach of several provisions of the constitution, but not in the eyes of the royalist courts. The verdict is re-scheduled for 23 January 2013.
Somyos’ case was sent to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion. That submission is available as a PDF.
His 12th appeal for bail was rejected on 8 January 2013. Somyos submitted an 18-page closing address to the Criminal Court. He has reportedly argued that “he should not be found guilty because the Print Act 2007 said writers, not editors, should be held as the prime offenders in lese majeste cases…. Since the authors of the two offending articles, written under the pseudonym Jit Polachan, were not included in the lese majeste lawsuit, the articles did not violate the law…”.
Amnesty International has declared Somyos a “Prisoner of Conscience.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued this statement on the conviction of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk [bolding by PPT]:
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed Wednesday her deep concern about the verdict and extremely harsh sentencing of the editor and prominent activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, adding that this represents a setback for the protection and promotion of human rights in Thailand.
Somyot was convicted of lese-majesty offences for publishing two articles, which were considered as critical of the Monarchy, in his Voice of Takshin magazine. Earlier today, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the breach of Article 112 of the Criminal Code, which states that “whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”
“The conviction and extremely harsh 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,” Pillay said.
“I welcome and support the efforts made by some parliamentarians and academics to propose amendments to article 112 in order to address concerns related to the application of the law,” she said.
The High Commissioner also expressed concern over the length of Somyot’s pre-trial detention, whose bail requests were denied 12 times by the courts. “I am disturbed that Somyot has been denied bail and presented in court on several occasions wearing shackles – as if he were some kind of dangerous criminal,” the High Commissioner said. “People exercising freedom of expression should not be punished in the first place,” Pillay said.
On 30 August 2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Somyot’s detention was arbitrary and requested the Government of Thailand to take all necessary steps to “release Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and accord him an enforceable right to compensation” in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Thailand is a party.*
“Activists, journalists and academics play a dynamic role in fostering Thailand’s human rights culture,” Pillay said. “This reflects positively on Thai society, but cases such as Somyot’s risk reversing the important progress made by Thailand.”
In March 2013 it was reported that an appeal was in the works with Somyos to represented by former National Human Rights commissioner Vasant Panich, who has been a vehement Thaksin Shinawatra critic, but who sees that Somyos has been denied justice.
In early April 2013, the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organisation Against Torture urged the Court of Appeal to review Somyos’ conviction, in conformity with international human rights standards. Meanwhile, lawyer Vasant filed both an appeal against the conviction Somyos received in January and his 14th request for bail. Like all others, this request was rejected.
In mid-July 2013, it was reported that the 15th bail request was about to be lodged. As expected, in early August, it was reported that the Appeals Court had rejected this 15th request for bail. The court ruled that, if bailed, Somyos would flee Thailand. The courts continue to deny Somyos his legal rights. Two documents on this appeal and the court’s decision may be downloaded, both as Thai-language PDFs: ครั้งที่ 15 24 กค.56 and Bail rejected by appeal court no. 15.
Media reports on Somyos’s case:
Bangkok Post, 1 August 2013: “Court rejects Somyot’s 15th request for bail“
The Nation, 23 July 2013: “Somyos to seek bail for 15th time; Red Siam man may face new charge“
Bangkok Post, 16 July 2013: “Somyot to submit 15th bail request“
Prachatai,30 June 2013: “20 minutes between the iron bars“
Prachatai, 6 June 2013: “Somyot’s wife submits letter on press freedom to World Newspaper Association“
Bangkok Post, 5 April 2013: “Rights groups demand bail for Somyot“
The Nation, 28 March 2013: “Staunch Thaksin critic agrees to take Somyos’ appeal case“
Huge media reaction to sentencing is collected at this PPT page.
Bangkok Post, 23 January 2013: “Somyot gets 11 years for lese majeste“
Prachatai, 23 January 2013: “Thailand: Editor Convicted for Insulting Monarchy“
Prachatai, 23 January 2013: “International condemnation of the conviction of activist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk“
Prachatai, 23 January 2013: “Statement of the European Union on the sentencing of Mr Somyot Pruksakasemsuk“
Prachatai, 23 January 2013: “Thailand: Release human rights defender imprisoned for insulting the monarchy“
Bangkok Post,23 January 2013: “Somyot submits 18-page closing address ahead of judges’ ruling“
AHRC, 22 January 2013: “Arbitrary detention of a human rights defender and continued removal of constitutional protections“
The Nation, 20 December 2012: “Court defers judgement in Somyos lese-majeste case to Jan 23“
Bangkok Post, 19 December 2012: “Somyos lese majeste ruling deferred until Jan 23“
Bloomberg, 18 December 2012: “Thai Editor Detained 20 Months for Royal Insult May Face Verdict“
Red Shirts blog, 2 December 2012: “The Remarkable 112 Community“
Prachatai, 1 December 2012: “Updates on lèse majesté and computer crime cases“
The Nation, 10 October 2012: “Constitution Court rules Article 112 not unconstitutional“
Bangkok Post, 10 October 2012: “Court: Article 112 is constitutional“
AFP, 10 October 2012: “Thai court upholds contentious royal slur law“
The Nation, 20 Septermber 2012: “Protesters rally for release of lese majeste prisoners“
Bangkok Post, 18 September 2012: “Rich get bail, while poor go to jail“
Prachatai, 23 August 2012: “Release of two lèse majesté convicts today delayed“
Prachatai, 21 May 2012: “Somyot denied bail and his petition to the Constitutional Court dismissed“
Prachatai, 5 May 2012: “Verdict for Somyot expected from late Sept onward“
RWB, 4 May 2012: “Call for magazine editor’s release after trial on lèse-majesté charges“
Prachatai, 4 May 2012: “Thammasat lecturers testify in defence of Somyot“
Prachatai, 3 May 2012: “Somyot: Jakrapob Penkair wrote the articles“
Bangkok Post, 29 April 2012: “Exhibition turns spotlight on lese majeste defendant Somyos“
Prachatai, 26 April 2012: “Royalist witness says Nitirat’s proposed amendment of 112 is the way to go“
Prachatai, 23 April 2012: “Somyot’s lawyers will seek Constitution Court’s opinion on lèse majesté law“
Prachatai, 19 April 2012: “Court hearing on Somyot’s case continues“
Prachatai, 5 April 2012: “Somyot vows to fight on“
Prachatai, 6 March 2012: “Surachai will ask PM to seek royal pardon for political prisoners“
Prachatai, 16 February 2012: “The denial of the right to temporary release of Mr. Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and other accused in criminal cases“
Prachatai, 4 February 2012: “Somyot’s son to go on a hunger strike to ‘Free My Dad’“
Bangkok Post, 31 January 2012: “No bail for red on lese majeste rap“
Prachatai, 22 January 2012: “Somyot in court in Nakhon Sawan“
Prachatai, 16 January 2012: “Open letter from Somyot Pruksakasemsuk“
Prachatai, 21 December 2011: “Second hearing of Somyot’s case in Phetchabun“
Prachatai, 22 November 2011: “Somyot’s first trial in Sa Kaew“
Links, 17 September 2011: “Thailand: Free Somyot Prueksakasemsuk!“
Bangkok Post, 20 August 2011: “Red shirt leaders denied bail“
Reporters Without Borders, 11 August 2011: “Detained newspaper editor facing trial on lèse-majesté charges”
AP, 29 July 2011: “Thailand’s lese majeste laws under scrutiny”
Committee to Protect Journalists, 28 July 2011: “Editor faces anti-royal charges in Thailand”
Bangkok Post, 22 July 2011: “Free Somyot rally outside prison”
Prachatai, 15 July 2011: “Korean activists urge release of Somyot”
Prachatai, 29 June 2011: “Free Somyos activities”
Asian Human Rights Commission, 3 June 2011: “THAILAND: Criminalization of free speech ahead of election”
Reporters Without Borders, 2 May 2011: “Lèse-majesté charge used to crackdown on opposition media”
ประชาไท, 30 April 2011: “รวบ “สมยศ พฤกษาเกษมสุข” ที่ด่านอรัญ แจ้งข้อหา112 เตรียมส่ง “ดีเอสไอ”"
Bangkok Post, 30 April 2011: “DSI arrests key red-shirt member”