Updated: Somyos in court

3 05 2012

The lese majeste trial of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk has entered its last days and has become more startling as Somyos has begun to give evidence.

As reported in several sources, including Prachatai, Somyos yesterday named Jakrapob Penkair as the author of the articles at the center of the case, published with a pseudonym. The articles in Thai and English translation can be found here.

Somyos testified that in 2009 he became executive editor of the Voice of Taksin magazine, receiving a salary of 25,000 baht per month. The magazine was owned by several people. The magazine was anti-coup and advocated rights and democracy.

He said that “Jitr Pollachan” was Jakrapob Penkair, who fled lese majeste charges in 2009. Jakrapob had contributed to the magazine for some time. Jakrapob’s lese majeste case has reportedly been dropped. Somyos also testified that Jakrapob was effectively the manager of the magazine.

Somyos said that he thought that the two offending articles referred to amart rather than the monarchy. He provided several reasons why the articles could not be seen to refer to the current king.

Somyos provided some longer term perspective on how the Abhisit Vejjajiva government had sought to close the magazine. He was arrested following the May 2010 crackdown on red shirts. After that crackdown,

Somyot and Chulalongkorn University Suthachai Yimprasert held a press conference calling on the Abhisit Vejjajiva government to be held responsible. He and Suthachai were then arrested under the Emergency Decree and were detained at a military base for 21 and 7 days respectively before being released without charge. During that time, Voice of Taksin was banned….

It became Red Power and the government order its printing house to cease printing it. That’s when it moved to Cambodia. Somyos was arrested on lese majeste charges when he was on a trip to Cambodia.

Somyos considered his arrest resulted from “the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES)’s ‘diagram of plot to overthrow the monarchy’ which included his magazine among many conspirators.” That “plot” has since been shown to be a concoction by the Abhisit regime.

Somyot added that:

he had never criticized the monarchy, and had been loyal to the institution like other people, but he disagreed with Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lèse majesté law. He saw that the law had been used as a political tool to destroy opponents, its penalty of 3-15 years’ imprisonment was too severe, and it was against the principles of rights and freedoms according to the constitution.

He stated a “duty to speak the truth,” and declared that “if after speaking the truth they punish me, that’s OK. I consider that I have fulfilled the duty of my life, so be it…”.

The political trial continues.

Update: For a report on 2 May proceedings, see this report in Prachatai. Interestingly, while providing evidence, law lecturer Dr Piyabutr Saengkanokkul of Nitirat took the opportunity to attack Article 112 itself, including this comment:

… defamation of the King had nothing to do with national security, because it would only tarnish the King’s reputation, and Thailand was under democratic rule, not an absolute monarchy in which the King had supreme power.

Tai’s hunger protest for Somyos

12 02 2012

The hunger protest by Panitan Prueksakasemsuk or Tai for his father, Somyos, jailed on lese majeste charges, is getting some media attention.

At The Nation it is reported that 24 year-old Tai decided on this action after his father was refused bail seven times.

His action, in front of the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road is “a bid to raise awareness of the importance of a detainee’s right to bail.”

In fact, under Section 40 of the 2007 constitution, a person has specified rights in judicial processes. These include:

… 2) fundamental rights in judicial process composing of, at least, right to public trial; right to be informed of and to examine into facts and related documents adequately; right to present facts, defences and evidences in the case; right to object the partial judges; right to be considered by the full bench of judges; and right to be informed of justifications given in the judgement or order;…

3) right to correct, prompt and fair trial;…

7) an alleged offender and the accused in criminal case shall have the right to correct, prompt and fair investigation or trial with an adequate opportunity in defending his case, the right to examine or to be informed of evidence, right to defend himself through counsel and the right to bail….

Arguably, those charged with lese majeste are denied one or more of these provisions. Indeed, in the case of Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, a closed trial was initially held and demonstrating that both lese majeste and the judiciary are political tools, later ruled to be constitutional.

Tai argues that his father “ought to be granted bail if he is to have a fair chance of fighting the lese-majeste charge.” He also points out that people on charges that carry the death penalty are granted bail.

At the Bangkok Post, Tai’s 112-hour famine is reported to have begun with about 30 students from Thammasat showing their support for his cause.

After his hunger strike ends, Tai plans to “file a petition with the Justice Ministry, seeking temporary release on bail for his father.”

Supporting Abhisit!

20 06 2011

PPT had a Google-induced heart attack today when a reader reported looking back through earlier posts at our site. As the reader scrolled down the post “A letter from Jaran,” at the foot of the page where there are sometimes Google advertisements for Thai women seeking foreign husbands and so on, what popped up? This:

Of course, the adverts are country specific and sometimes very local, so this is one generated for Thailand. We wonder if the Democrat Party is really seeking to persuade its critics? And to think this government blocked PPT for so long as (presumably) an anti-government, anti-monarchy national security threat and so on. Presumably they now need PPT to spread their electoral message! Wonder if they have booked space in the next Red Power issue. And, yes, it is still coming out, even though Somyos Pruksakasemsuk continues to be held as a political prisoner.

Opposition to lese majeste grows

22 05 2011

In The Nation, it it reported that 100 “writers have joined a growing chorus in the call to amend the lese majeste law and stop the use of the law as a ‘political tool’ to suppress political opponents and freedom of political expression.”

Young and well-known young writers “urged other writers, irrespective of their political ideology, to defend freedom of expression as a fundamental aspect of a free society.”

They called on the “army to stop using the monarchy institution as an excuse to crush its opponents.” PPT understands the politics of such a statement, but exonerating the monarchy from the political repression flies in the face of recent Thai history.

The article continues: “The latest move highlights the fact that as more and more people are being incarcerated under the lese majeste law, opponents of the law are no longer limited to leftists, republicans or those sympathetic to red shirts. Now, mainstream writers are joining the fray.”

The report also raises the issue of “lack of transparency regarding the number of people incarcerated under the law, with estimates that could top one hundred.”

Based on estimates seen in various studies, PPT reckons the figure is higher than this; perhaps 300.

Just this past week, Red Power magazine editor Somyos Prueksakasemsuk was again refused bail, “making it more likely now that he will spend months if not more, at Bangkok Remand Prison while fighting lese majeste charges against him.”

Great news, its true, that young writers see this law as repressive, but why not get rid of the horrid law and let the royals use the laws that others use?

The elite should be worried

19 05 2011

Pravit Rojanaphruk at The Nation has a story that won’t cheer the government and its supporters and backers. He says the elite should be worried that its campaign of repression, censorship and brute force has failed.

He says: “One year after the bloody military crackdown on the red-shirt protest that ended on May 19, its unintended consequences that still reverberate today. Those among the established elite who thought a bloody suppression of their opponents – which led to 92 deaths on both sides, but mostly red shirts, and left more than a thousand injured – had succeeded should rethink.”

Why? Pravit observes that red shirts “are now even more critical, energised and full of angst against the old established elite who they believe have orchestrated all the political manipulations from behind the scenes over the years, but especially since the 2006 military coup.”

We think the story is well worth reading in full, not least because, having just returned from Rajaprasong, one of our correspondents tells us that red shirts are gathering in very large numbers.

Our very hot and sweaty observer says that two hours before the official beginning of the anniversary rally, Rajaprasong intersection is closed and packed with red shirts. Because it was so hot, it was difficult to assess the numbers. Most sensible people were crowded into shaded areas and in shopping centers nearby that would let them in. Of course the ritzy malls of the capital’s rich and pampered were closed. McDonalds was packed, as was Big C before it closed. Our colleague thinks there were more than 10,000 there and others were streaming in.

PPT won’t be surprised if the mainstream media reports 15,000 total; they always seek to under-estimate the red shirt support.

Back up Sukhumvit Road, red shirts arriving in small convoys of pick-ups were being cheered on by vendors and workers, some of them dressed in red shirts while they worked.

At the rally, our correspondent observed that the old village fair atmosphere was still there, but tempered by pictures of the dead and stalls full of VCDs that detailed the crackdown and deaths. Speeches by red shirt leaders were also readily available. Some of the red shirt merchandise was fascinating. A Truth Today clock for 290 baht, a Thaksin as Rambo t-shirt for 50 baht, a cartoon t-shirt celebrating those who manned the barricades was 100 baht.

PPT believes that Pravit has it right. These people are determined and convinced that they will eventually triumph. As he says, a “year after the deaths [in April and May 2010], not a single case has been solved. Not a single person has been put on trial. And frankly, nobody expects the end of impunity any time soon, with the military now carving a greater role with a bigger budget in its self-appointed task of defending national security and the monarchy.”

Further, “with red-shirt leaders such as Red Power editor Somyos Phrueksakasemsuk and Surachai Sae-darn in jail under the lese majeste law, many red shirts, rightly or wrongly, have become fully convinced that they do not truly enjoy equal political rights or the right to express their views and convictions.”

While Pravit claims he “has never witnessed so many people exhibiting such a level of anger and hatred against the established elite…”, PPT’s correspondent reckons that there remains a determination to vote, yet again, and get the government they should have had all along. If that happens, PPT is sure the elite will again work against it. That promises a grim struggle for some time to come.

Lèse Majesté: A Challenge to Thailand’s Democracy

12 05 2011

This is the title of an event planned by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. We are surprised to note that Amnesty International’s Benjamin Zawacki will speak. Is this to signal an AI interest in lese majeste where it has been largely absent for 5 long years. Details below:

8 pm, Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a historian at Thammasat University, is the latest victim of Thailand’s lèse majesté (LM) law, which carries a maximum 15-year jail term for violators. Bangkok’s remand prison is already filling up with others charged and arrested for the over 100-year law meant to protect the image of the country’s monarchy from words or actions deemed insulting. Among the 10 in jail currently waiting for their cases to go to court are Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a political activist and editor-in-chief of the Thailand-based Voice of Taksin and Red Power news magazines.

The spike in the number of LM cases since the September 2006 coup has consequently raised troubling questions about the rights of the freedom of expression and academic freedom in the kingdom. How does Thailand strike a balance between retaining this law, enforced through the Article 112 of the Criminal Code, and its commitment towards democracy? What is behind this trend towards a form of censorship unique in this region?

But the Thai government and officials are not the only ones faced with the daunting challenge of responding to such questions. Even respected international human rights organizations find themselves in the spotlight, reflected by a raging debate in the blogosphere about what should and should not be said.

The FCCT, in keeping with its tradition of being a space for free and open discussion on current and relevant issues, will be hosting a panel discussion by speakers who have been on the front lines of the LM debate. It promises to be an absorbing night.

The speakers are:

Sulak Sivaraksa, an internationally known social critic and Buddhist scholar, who has been charged many times with LM since his first case in 1984. The respected Thai public intellectual was found innocent of LM in 1995, a significant achievement given the high conviction rate for LM cases. The latest charge against him for comments made at a human rights event in 2007 in Khon Kaen was dropped in late 2010.

David Streckfuss, an independent America academic who has specialized in Thailand’s political culture, including the enforcement of Article 112. He is the author of the recently published book, ‘Truth on Trial in Thailand: defamation, treason and lese-majeste’, regarded by some as the definitive publication on the subject.

Benjamin Zawacki, Asia researcher for Thailand, Myanmar and for emergencies for Amnesty International, the London-based global rights watchdog.

A fourth speaker to reflect the official view of the LM law and its relevance to Thailand is still to be confirmed.

Pricing Details:

Members: No cover charge, buffet dinner is 350 baht

Non-members: 300 baht cover charge without buffet dinner or 650 baht for buffet dinner including cover charge

RWB on Somyos arrest

3 05 2011

Reporters Without Borders writes that it “is concerned about the fate of Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, editor of the magazine Voice of Thaksin [Red Power], who was arrested by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) on 30 April and was placed in pre-trial custody today by a Bangkok criminal court on a charge of lèse-majesté. A request for release on bail was rejected.”

RWB is clear: “This arrest confirms that a crackdown on the opposition media is under way.” It adds: “Once again it is a lèse-majesté charge that has been used to detain an opposition journalist and activist. This is not an isolated case but one that targets all media that are close to or support the opposition. In less than a month, about 20 opposition figures have been accused of lèse-majesté.”

There is no freedom

30 10 2010

The Red Power magazine has not appeared for two months, and The Nation reports on the reasons for this.

Red Power’s editor is activist Somyos Prueksakasemsuk explains that he has had to have the latest issue of 30,000 copies printed in Cambodia after “12 Thai printing houses turned him down … due to fear of government harassment…”. He adds that “no distributors would carry his publication because they’re ‘afraid’, adding that authorities checked the last distributor’s two years’ worth of tax records.”

Recall that both Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya have claimed that the there is media freedom in the country and that the opposition is able to be active in the media. Kasit even proclaimed that Thailand is open and freedom of the press “is second to none in the world!”

Somyos states: “There is no freedom. There is no space for us to express ourselves even though we chose to fight peacefully…”.

At present, the magazine is stuck in Cambodia as officials won’t let the shipment enter the country.

Somyos and another chance for the NHRC

18 09 2010

PPT posted earlier this week about the censoring of Red Power magazine, edited by Somyos Prueksakasemsuk.  On 8 September, using the broad powers granted to him by the Emergency Decree, the governor of Nonthaburi ordered copies of the magazine to be seized and a current print run to be stopped.

On 15 September, as reported by Prachatai,  Somyos took action by filing a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission and asked them “to look into the case urgently to allow the companies to continue their business, to stop the government’s political bullying and media intimidation, and to protect democratic rights and freedoms.”

As PPT has blogged previously here and here, the NHRC has unevenly upheld human rights in recent months.  We hope that Amara Pongsapich and her fellow commissioners will do the right thing this time. In other words, we hope that they will  investigate censorship, stop the arbitrary harassment of publishers and uphold free speech. If they choose not to do so, we suggest a name change to the National Human Rights (of a select few) Commission.

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