AI on political prisoners and lese majeste

12 06 2013

Simon Roughneen at The Irrawaddy talks with Salil Shetty, Secretary-General of  Amnesty International and Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific deputy director. The two were in Burma for a World Economic Forum meeting and the interview began with Burma and turned to other members of ASEAN.

PPT has only mentioned Shetty in two previous posts, when we were highly critical of AI’s stance on lese majeste. In fact, it was the lack of any stand and its capitulation to the Abhisit Vejjajiva royalist regime’s vigorous use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws that was the issue. AI in Thailand was under the influence and control of royalists and its then Southeast Asia representative Benjamin Zawacki repeatedly made comments supportive of arguments about lese majeste being about “protection of the monarchy” and argued publicly that the king was a defender of human rights.

AI’s stance on lese majeste remains somewhat less than crystal clear, so whenever it makes a statement, we try to highlight it. This is from the interview:

Q: How many people are in jail or have been charged under lese-majeste in Thailand? Are they categorized as political prisoners or prisoners of conscience if they are detained under lese-majeste or associated aspects of Thailand’s computer crimes law?

IA: Amnesty International has expressed a number of concerns with lese-majeste laws—they don’t meet international human rights standards. Some of them are prisoners of conscience, such as Somyot Prueksakasemsuk [a magazine editor and labor activist who was sentenced to 11 years jail for lese-majeste in January], and we have been campaigning actively for their immediate and unconditional release. Another aspect we are concerned about is the denial of bail to those charged under lese-majeste. It is very important that all those facing charges are free pending investigation and trial. It is very hard to say the exact number detained under the lese-majeste laws, I believe it is tens of people. We are not able to say at the moment how many of those are prisoners of conscience. There are other laws such as the Computer Crime Act that we are concerned about and recently the use of criminal defamation suits as well.

SS: We will be meeting the Thai prime minister and will raise several of these issues and also issues of rights violations in the conflict in the south of Thailand. And just to go back to the region [ASEAN], it’s not overall a pretty picture, there are violations in most countries. For the region, freedom of expression, reform of the criminal justice systems and accountability for past violations are the three key issues for us. There are land issues, issues of women’s rights are other important issues as well that come up across the region in terms of human rights.

To be honest, we don’t think AI has been active enough on lese majeste, political prisoners and accountability in Thailand. But as we have said before, at least AI is no longer expressing support for laws that made political prisoners of regime opponents.


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