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.

AI and the PM

11 11 2010

Long-time PPT readers will know that we have been critical of Amnesty International and its work in Thailand – or rather the work they choose to ignore. It record on lese majeste is simply abysmal, and readers can look back through our various posts on this. (For some reason – perhaps because it initially thought the case wasn’t lese majeste – AI took up the arrest and brief imprisonment of Chiranuch Premchaiporn).

For earlier critical commentary on AI and Thailand see here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Remarkably – is this an example of AI’s backdoor work on human rights? – Salil Shetty, Secretary General of AI is reported in a Thai government press release as having “paid a call on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on the occasion of his visit to Thailand, at Thai Koo Fah Building, the Government House.”

The government says the AI “Secretary General asked the Prime Minister on issues interested by the public and media, such as the political situation, situation in the southern border provinces, situation of displaced persons fleeing from fightings in Myanmar, and lèse majesté law.” (Yep, that’s how it is written.)

It is reported that Abhisit again trotted out the usual lines, lies and all, when he “elaborated that the enforcement of lèse majesté law is based on basic principles and takes into account intentions of violators. It is not used to limit academic debates. Thailand is an open society, and respects and adheres to freedom of expression. This can be seen clearly from present political situation. Both the opposition and government have access to the media and newspapers, public television, and cable television – an event which is different from the past.” If Abhisit says this enough, maybe he’ll convince himself.

Most of the public relations release is nonsense. Siam Voices has additional commentary. PPT did a quick search of AI’s media and press pages and can find no account of the meeting with Abhisit. It is now incumbent on AI to correct the impression that the conversation was one-sided propaganda.

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