AI on political amnesty and lese majeste

6 04 2012

While not especially clear in its presentation and argument, and despite some glaring blind spots, we think Amnesty International has made some reasonable points in its latest release on Thailand. For example, while national reconciliation is a political debate, but that call  that an amnesty that  grants “impunity for grave human rights violations” should be held unacceptable.

One of the glaring gaps in AI’s pronouncement is this:

The report, prepared by the King Prajadhipok’s Institute (KPI), recommends that the amnesty not apply to offences pertaining to the monarchy.

That’s it. Is AI supporting this unacceptable exclusion? It remains unclear because this orphaned phrase is separated from a longer expression of “concerns over the application of the proposed amnesty to prisoners of conscience.”

At least AI is continuing to use the plural form – something which seems to have begun early in 2012 – after having bungled their very first and much belated claim of a single prisoner of conscience in Thailand in May 2011.

In this new announcement, AI states:

Since the beginning of the country’s political crisis in 2005, many of Thailand’s prisoners of conscience have been charged under the lèse majesté law (Article 112 of the Criminal Code) and/or the Computer-related Crimes Act, which has been used as a conduit to bring lèse majesté charges….

Both laws place Thailand in contravention of its international legal obligations regarding freedom of expression.

“People charged under these laws solely for their peaceful political expression should have their charges dropped,” said Benjamin Zawacki.  “Those imprisoned—like prisoners of conscience everywhere—should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

AI's Zawacki

That AI calls for the unconditional release might be considered something of a breakthrough. However, and this is a yawning gap in AI’s approach, Zawacki has always implied that some of these lese majeste prisoners may have been somehow violent or used “hate speech,” somehow defining the latter as not “peaceful political expression.” Which prisoners fall into Zawacki’s opaque definition of “violence”? In its 2011 country report on Thailand, AI mentioned only two cases, ironically, the only two who seemed to be out of jail on bail. PPT has heard Zawacki make a claim that Darunee Charnchoensilpakul was somehow violent or inciting violence in her speech that got her into trouble, but he provided no evidence or clear statement. See more of this here.

So serious questions remain: first, who are the prisoners of conscience; and second, what, exactly, is AI doing for and about them?

Another breakthrough appears to be a change of language related to the laws, with AI now stating:

Amnesty International continues to urge the Thai authorities to either amend the lèse majesté law and the Computer-related Crimes Act so that they meet international norms and standards on freedom of expression, or abolish them.

We highlight “abolish” because, in the past, AI has talked of amending the laws. In 2010, in praising then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, and stating:

Amnesty International supports the prime minister’s new initiative, and encourages the Royal Thai government to amend the lese majeste law so that it complies with international law and standards….

So there seems to have been a change, but when Zawacki states: “prisoners of conscience should be set free,” we wonder who he means. Why doesn’t AI name all of them. If AI can’t name them, doesn’t this allow the government to simply ignore the statement?


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