Lese majeste charge based on email

22 08 2014

Prachatai reports that Tanet (last name withheld) “has been arrested and charged with Article 112 or lese majeste for sending an email containing a link to content deemed defaming the monarchy to now-defunct Stop Lese Majeste blog.”

Tanet “was accused of sending an email to Emilio Esteban, whom the police identified as an Englishman residing in Spain.” Esteban is alleged to have operated the Stop Les Majeste blog.

The case apparently goes back to 2010, when police hacked Esteban’s email “and found an email from the suspect.” It is alleged that the email stated: “Can you post this web on your site for Thais to read? They need to read it. Thanks load.”

It was only on 2 July 2014 that “10 military officers and plainclothes police raided his house and arrested him.” Police claim he “admitted … sending the email” while under detention at a military base.

The police stated that Tanet is “charged him under Article 112 (for defaming the King), 116 (for instigating unrest) of the Criminal Code and Article 14 (3) of the Computer Crime Law (for sending content deemed threat to national security on the computer system).” Police claim he pleased guilty and he remains in custody at the Bangkok Remand Prison.

This is the third case related to Estaban, with earlier cases in 2009 involving Nat Sattayapornpisut (convicted, jailed for 4.5 years, based on guilty plea; released after serving 2 years and 4 months) and Suwicha Thakor (convicted, jailed for 20 years, commuted to 10 after he pleaded guilty. Pardoned in June 2010).

 





Nat Sattayapornpisut released in April

4 08 2012

Prachatai reports that Nat Sattayapornpisut was finally released from jail in April 2012 after serving 2 years and 4 months on lese majeste charges.

Nat’s case goes back to 2008, although it was only in October 2009 that the Criminal Court has agreed to a request by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to detain Nat , then aged 27, under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act after he was found to have sent offensive clips to a blog called StopLeseMajeste.

The DSI began investigations on 29 August 2008 that led to YouTube clips and the arrest of Suwicha Thakor and the discovery of an alias StopLeseMajeste. The latter was believed to belong to “Emilio Esteban,” a Briton living in Spain, who had been in email contact with Suwicha. Between 19 April 2008 and 15 September 2009, Esteban allegedly published contents offensive to the throne on his blogs and called for the abolition of the lese majeste law. The police gained access to Esteban’s email, where they allegedly found that on 21-23 July 2009 Nat had sent him three “offensive clips” which were then posted by Esterban.

DSI initially charged Nat with offenses under the Computer Crimes Act—disseminating pornographic materials through the internet – which we assume to be the naked pictures of various royals and associates that have long been in circulation.  He was eventually bailed out by his relatives with 200,000 baht in cash but a month later was summoned to the DSI, and further charged with lese majeste.

These charges are interesting as the website includes, in addition to some of the most childish clips that appeared at YouTube about the king, clips involving the crown prince and his various consorts in compromising situations as well as other royals in similar situations. Some of the clips are real and have been surreptitiously circulated in Thailand, while others are concocted and silly. Involving the crown prince’s private life has seen others jailed (such as Harry Nicolaides and Akechai Hongkangwarn).

There was very little news on Nat’s case until well after his release from prison in April 2012 and then via this Prachatai report.

It states that Nat went to court on 14 December 2009. He went alone and without a lawyer.  Without support and advice, when he was asked by court officials what he had decided to do he was also told that if he confessed, a verdict would be delivered immediately. He knew that “this kind of case was almost impossible to fight.” He confessed. That day he was found “guilty on three counts for sending three e-mails on 22-23 July 2009, and sentenced him to 9 years in prison, but reduced the term by half as he had pleaded guilty.

Nat’s time in prison was extremely difficult for him. Prachatai reports that “During his time, he got to know other ‘Section 112’ prisoners, starting with Wanchai Saetan who was in the same zone, Worawut Thanangkorn who was moved to the zone in early 2011, and then Thanthawut Thaweewarodomkul.  It was Thanthawut who told visitors about Nat and Wanchai.  As a result, from mid-2011 onward, Nat, who had previously been rarely visited, had more visitors, including red shirts and other concerned people, and that lifted his spirits.”

Nat now visits his compatriots who remain imprisoned on lese majeste charges.





HRW on lese majeste I

25 04 2012

The upcoming verdict in the trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, Prachatai’s web-board manager, on computer crimes and lese majeste charges, prompts Human Rights Watch to comment on these laws. PPT will come to that in part II of this post. In this first post, we wish to look at HRW’s record on lese majeste.

Based on our search of the HRW website, we get returns as far back as 2003, with 23 links related to Thailand. In all that follows, emphasis in bold type is added by PPT.

It seems the first comment on lese majeste in Thailand is in 2005:

On Tuesday, [Prime Minister] Thaksin [Shinawatra] heeded the advice of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and dropped six criminal and civil defamation suits against journalist and Manager Media Group founder Sondhi Limthongkul. The king also advised the prime minister not to overreact to critics and to tolerate media criticisms instead of trying to suppress them….

Sondhi and one of his colleagues, Sarocha Pornudomsak, continue to face two police investigations into lese majeste offences for allegedly criticizing the king. The first is under the jurisdiction of Provincial Police Region Three. The second is being handled by the Central Investigation Bureau….

Later in its report HRW notes that a court had rejected the first charges of lese majeste. Interestingly, HRW makes no observation on this political use of lese majeste. Soon after,  in 2007, HRW reports:

On October 8 Pongthep Thetpratheep, secretary-general to the interim prime minister, General Surayud Chulanont, told activist groups and journalists to stop voicing opposition to the new cabinet line-up, saying that it could be viewed as interfering with the King’s decision. “Lese majeste” is a serious criminal offense in Thailand, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Again, there is no comment on the law and its politicized use, which appears to only emerge in 2008, when HRW makes the first critical observation on the law that PPT is able to locate:

The PAD has … actively advocated the use of charges of lèse majesté (insulting the monarchy) against supporters of the government to stifle free expression. It accuses many pro-government websites of promoting anti-monarchy sentiments, a serious attack on freedom of expression given Thailand’s strict lèse majesté laws. More than 400 websites have closed in 2008, some under compulsion, others out of fear.

In the same year, HRW commented on political violence and said:

The PAD has also actively advocated the use of charges of lese majeste … against supporters of the government to stifle free expression. It has accused many pro-government websites of promoting anti-monarchy sentiments, a serious attack on freedom of expression given Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws. More than 400 websites have closed in 2008, some by order of the police, others out of fear.

Media freedom and freedom of expression in Thailand have been at risk from the political conflict,” said [HRW spokesman Brad] Adams. “The PAD has shown little respect for these basic human rights.”

Following up on this, in its 2008 country report, HRW notes charges against Jakrapob Penkair and Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, putting the charges in a category of limiting freedom of expression, and noting, again, that political conflict was at the root of the charges, but refraining from commenting on the law itself.

It is only late in 2009 that HRW notes that “Thailand makes arbitrary use of the lese majeste law and the Computer Crimes Act.” Oddly, this statement appears de-linked from earlier comments on political conflict.

In its 2009 country report, released in early 2010, and again commenting on freedom of expression, “Thailand” is said to be censoring thousands of websites “accusing them of promoting anti-monarchy sentiments and posing threats to national security” and charging several people with lese majeste, while jailing Darunee and Suwicha Thakor. In a related press release, HRW finally chastises the “government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva largely failed to fulfill its pledges to make human rights a priority…”. It stated:

“Democracy in Thailand suffers badly from draconian laws on lese majeste and cyber crimes,” said Adams. “A climate of fear looms over civil discourse and in cyberspace as a result of increasing restrictions on freedom of expression under the Abhisit government.”

The government also has used both the lese majeste statute in the Criminal Code and the new Computer Crimes Act to suppress critics of the monarchy and persecute perceived government enemies.

In effect, it is only in late 2009 that HRW finally makes the all too obvious link between political conflict, lese majeste and freedom of expression.

It is not until 2010, following the Abhisit government’s two bloody crackdown operations against red shirt protestors, that there is anything like a serious accounting of lese majeste cases, and this comes in HRW’s forensically-challenged report on those crackdowns. But still, HRW does not comment on the law itself and the need to amend or trash it.

Somewhat oddly, it is not until 15 August 2011, and following the election of the Yingluck Shinawatra government, that HRW has a lese majeste epiphany, demanding:

End all restrictions on the media that violate the right to freedom of expression, and announce a concrete plan to revoke laws such as the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation, the Computer Crimes Act, and the laws regarding lese majeste.

HRW even went to far as to issue an open letter to Yingluck on this and other human rights issues. While this demand was welcomed, it has to be said that it is odd because no such demand was made during the periods when the lese majeste law was being politically used most savagely, under the royalist governments led by Surayud and Abhisit.

By December 2011, however, following the ludicrous sentencing of Ampol Tangnopakul, HRW seemed to backslide, moving from its call to “revoke” the lese majeste law to “amend” it and began writing of eliminating “unnecessary restrictions” on free speech:

A Thai court’s sentencing of a 61-year-old man to 20 years in prison for sending four text messages illustrates the misuse by successive Thai governments of laws intended to protect the monarchy, Human Rights Watch said today. Thailand’s lese majeste laws should be amended to prevent unnecessary restrictions on freedom of expression.

We wonder what the “necessary restrictions” were and why HRW was backsliding on its earlier demand? HRW later repeated its call for amending the law. Within a few months, HRW was slamming the Yingluck government:

The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which took power after winning the general election in July, has largely failed to fulfill its pledges to make human rights a priority.

HRW seemed unable to adequately mount a critical attack on the Abhisit government, in power for more than two years, but could almost immediately jump in, boots and all, attacking the Yingluck government after less than 6 months. Why was that?

Finally, in 2012, HRW finally found itself able to criticize the standard and long-standing practice of refusing bail to most lese majeste victims. It stated:

Thai courts are refusing bail for people charged with the crime of lese majeste for apparently political reasons, Human Rights Watch said today. Thai law criminalizes the expression of peaceful opinions deemed offensive to the institution of the monarchy.

In all cases mentioned in its statement, this practice began earlier, under the Samak Sundaravej, Surayud and Abhisit governments. Again, PPT can only wonder why it took HRW more than three years to get to this issue.

It seems to PPT that HRW has been well behind on human rights issues associated with lese majeste in Thailand, appearing to take a politicized approach to the issue. It is in this context that HRW’s most recent statement needs to be considered. We turn to that in part II of this post.





Anti-coup campaigner Suchart and lese majeste

10 11 2010

At Prachatai there ios a follow-up story on the case of Worawut Thanangkorn/Suchart Nakbangsai. He has been arrested on lese majeste charges since 1 November.

He has apparently told Prachachat Thurakij “that he would not fight his case in court, and expected to do time in jail and then seek leniency for an early release as in the cases of Suwicha Thakor and Bunyuen Prasertying.”

A member of the “anti-[2006] coup group called ‘Saturday People against Dictatorship’, which was formed by members of a political webboard…, the group gathered regularly at Sanam Luang on Saturdays to speak against the coup, and was among several other anti-coup groups which preceded the advent of the red shirts and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).”

Police are holding him on remand. Suchart “told the newspaper that he had refused to give interviews to many reporters because he did not want to draw attention to his case.” He said: “I don’t want to be in the news. I don’t want publicity. I don’t want the media which may not understand my intent to report on me, because that would cause trouble to my family. So I think that this should be kept low-key, and end properly.” He added that he “would plead guilty in order to have his sentence commuted by half, and would do good [as a prisoner] to seek further commutation.”

He denied any association with red-shirt leaders, saying: “they did not accept me. I mean nothing to them. I fought for democracy, but not for elections.” He denied any links to Thaksin Shinawatra. In other words, he claimed to be a political loner, fighting for democracy.

Choosing to plead guilty has been made the only option on lese majeste. To do otherwise risks many, many years in jail.





FACT push the censorship envelope

31 10 2010

C.J. Hinke at Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) is pushing the censorship envelope, with an interview with Emilio Esteban, the man allegedly behind Thailand’s 7-month blocking of YouTube and at least two lese majeste arrests – he was one of those connected to both Nat Sattayapornpisut and Suwicha Thakor.

Read the interview as it is sure to be blocked. Esteban has several outlets including this and this. Readers in Thailand should be very careful if linking to these sites.

Esteban claims to oppose lese majeste. Frankly, much of the material posted by Esteban is juvenile but, at the same time, is remarkably challenging to the monarchy.





PPT observes Banned Books Week, mourns the constriction of speech

28 09 2010

Banned Books Week is a holiday near and dear to PPT’s heart. Observed from 25 September to 2 October this year, the week is about preserving intellectual freedom. In the view of the American Library Association, one of the sponsors, this means ” … the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week (BBW).  BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.”

Last year we urged readers to read banned books, write to Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul and Suwicha Thakor, and otherwise work to keep thinking, reading and writing free in Thailand and around the world. A year later, although Suwicha was pardoned, Darunee is still in jail. As the recent additional charges against Chiranuch Premchaiporn indicate, thought and speech are becoming less, not more, unfree.

This year, PPT has a gift to our readers for BBW. Seven months after the 6 October 1976 massacre, the Ministry of the Interior, led by then-Minister of Interior Samak Sundaravej, issued a list of 100 books that people were prohibited to have, and therefore to read. Some well-known volumes, such as Thai translations of State and Revolution, by V.I. Lenin (รัฐกับการปฎิวัติ โดย วี.ไอ. เลนิน) and Mao Tse-tung’s Four Essays on Philosophy (นิพนธ์ปรัชญา ๔ เรื่องของประธาน โดย เหมาเจ๋อตุง) are present. Others, that PPT would like to read, such as the Isan Revolutionary Group’s  Isan Revolutionary Treatise (คัมภีร์นักปฎิวัติ โดย กลุ่มอิสานปฎิวัติ), are present as well. Our gift to our readers is a PDF of the list of 100 banned books. There is nothing secret about the list — it was published in the ราชกิจจานุเบกษา/Royal Thai Government Gazette, on 11 March 1977. Possession of one of these books was enough to land one in trouble, and perhaps in detention.View the whole list here.

Today, there is no clear, published list of what Thai citizens cannot read or think. Instead, the line is invisible, and one does not know it exists until one has crossed it.





Updated: Briton freed after guilty plea

8 07 2010

As has been seen in several recent cases, one of the ways to get a better deal from the courts in Thailand is to plead guilty and show contrition. The Bangkok Post reports that British man Jeff Savage arrested and charged for the political crime of “violating the emergency decree while taking part in the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) protests has been freed after his jail term was halved because he confessed.” He was freed by the Pathumwan District Court on Thursday since he had already spent time in jail since being arrested.

The Australian Conor Purcell who was similarly charged entered a not guilty plea and was  foreign defendant on the same charge, Australian, 30, entered a plea of not guilty and has been outspoken. So he can expect considerable “punishment,” with his case not even scheduled to be heard until September.

Lese majeste cases – also highly political cases – see this pattern for high-profile cases. Harry Nicolaides held out for a while and so did Suwicha Thakor, but both eventually decided to stop fighting. Darunee Charnchoensilpakul fights to rights, and she remains in prison.

Update: PPT’s assessment of these cases is confirmed in the Sydney Morning Herald. Makes for interesting reading on the cases of “red shirt” foreigners.





Suwicha gets a pardon

30 06 2010

Somsak Jeamteerasakul (Jun 30, 2010 at 2:57 am) at New Madala has this post:

Suwicha was released yesterday by royal pardon. Today he went to Sirirat Hospital to pay respect to HM and gave an interview, thanking HM for showing mercy and urging all Thai to be grateful to what HM has done to the country. Suwicha also called on all those who ‘did wrong’ [on LM issue], either ‘for lack of knowledge/understanding’ [รู้เท่าไม่ถึงการณ์] to change their behaviors.

I’ve made a video clip of news report from Channel 5 military TV (29 June, 20.00). NM readers can download it here: http://www.mediafire.com/?zmjgmhkynnm

The clip contains the whole report of people going to Sirirat to pay respect to HM for today It’s a regular daily segment on all TV channels nowsaday (part of the ‘Royal Family News’ segment), but only Channel 5 seems to include news of Suwicha’s being there. Suwicha appears at the end of the clip beginning around minute 1.20.





UN, Thailand and lese majeste

12 06 2010

We thank a reader for bringing this report by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue, to our attention. It is from the background report to the UN-issued annual report at the UN Human Rights Council. It is important, so we reprint it in full.

The Special Rapporteur submitted his Annual Report to the 14th Session of the Human Rights Council (31 May to 18 June).  The Annual Report makes public the communications he had with the Thai governments during the year and the replies he received.  This year’s report includes the communications on lese majeste.

Thailand (pp. 386-94)

Urgent appeal

2361. On 6 April 2009, the Special Rapporteur, together with the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, sent an urgent appeal regarding Mr. Suwicha Takor, 34 years old.

2362. According to the information received, on 3 April 2009, the Criminal Court in Bangkok sentenced Mr. Takor to 10 years of imprisonment for posting images on the Internet in 2008 that were allegedly offensive to members of the royal family, including His Majesty, King Rama IX, and the Crown Prince, Maha Vajiralongkorn. Mr. Takor was convicted of lèse-majesté pursuant to articles 8 and 9 of the 2007 Constitution, articles 33, 83, 91 and 112 of the Criminal Code, and also pursuant to articles 14 (2) and 16 (1) of 2007 Computer Related Crime Act for having illegally used a computer. The 2007 Computer Related Crime Act was introduced under the military rule of the country. Mr. Takor was convicted on two accounts carrying 10 years of imprisonment each. His sentence was reduced because he had pleaded guilty.

2363. The police arrested Mr. Takor on 14 January 2009 in his hometown Nakhon Phanom and he was transferred to Bangkok. He had been kept in prison since then, as the court twice refused his lawyer’s submissions for bail.

2364. The Minister of Justice had called for a blanket ban on reporting on cases of lèse-majesté in the Thai media and was also refusing to publish related statistics.

2365. Concern was expressed that the arrest, detention and imprisonment of Mr. Suwicha Takor might represent a direct attempt to stifle freedom of expression in Thailand.

Responses from the Government

2366. In a letter dated 30 April 2009, the Government responded to the communication and provided preliminary information on the lèse-majesté law, explaining that the lèse-majesté law is part of Thailand’s criminal code, which also contains general provisions on defamation and libel of private individuals.

2367. Under the Thai Criminal Procedure Code, a person who comes across a suspected lèse-majesté act may set in motion legal prosecution by lodging a formal complaint with the relevant authorities. Facts and evidence are gathered and investigated first by the police in order to establish the case, before it can be submitted and examined by the public prosecutor in accordance with due process of law. Only thereafter may the public prosecutor bring the case before the court. In the past, a large number of lèse-majesté charges have been dropped. For those found guilty, they have the right to appeal to higher courts. It is also common for those convicted to be subsequently granted royal pardons.

2368. Similar lèse-majesté laws exist in many countries with constitutional monarchies, including countries in Western Europe. Like such countries, Thai law provides that the King shall be held in a non-violable position and that the King shall be respected and no one shall accuse or file charges of any sort against him. This is in accordance with article 8 of the 2007 Thai Constitution.

2369. The rationale behind the law is to protect Thailand’s national security because under the Thai Constitution, the monarchy is one of Thailand’s principal institutions. The King and other members of the Royal Family are above politics. The Constitution does not allow them to comment or act in their own defence. This is the same rationale as the law on contempt of court.

2370. The King himself is not adverse to criticisms, having publicly expressed, in a nationwide address, his discomfort with the lèse-majesté law and his disagreement with the notion that “the King can do no wrong”. However, the King is not in a position to amend the law, which has the support of the general public.

2371. Thailand is committed to upholding the rights of all persons to freedom of opinion and expression as stipulated in the ICCPR and the 2007 Thai Constitution. The lèse-majesté law is not aimed at curbing these rights nor the legitimate exercise of academic freedom, including the debates concerning the monarchy as an institution, which have taken place in the past.

2372. In a letter dated 7 July 2009, the Government provided additional information regarding the case of Mr. Suwisha Thakor.

2373. Mr. Suwisha Thakor was arrested on 14 January 2009 under a warrant issued by the Criminal Court stating that, from 27 April to 26 December 2008, Mr. Suwisha Thakor had disseminated information and pictures allegedly offensive to His Majesty the King via the Internet. Mr. Takor denied all charges while the police filed the application to the court, requesting to detain Mr. Takor during investigation.

2374. On 26 March 2009, after having received the investigation file from the police, the Attorney-General issued an opinion to institute prosecutions against Mr. Takor on two counts: (1) defaming, insulting or threatening the King, the Queen, her Heir apparent or the Regent by importing to a computer system of false computer data in a manner that is likely to damage the country’s security and of computer dated related to an offence against the Kingdom’s security; and (2) importing to a computer system that is publicly accessible of computer data where a third party’s picture appears either created, edited, added or adapted by electronic means or otherwise in a manner that is likely to impair the third party’s reputation or cause that third party to be ostracized, abominated or embarrassed which are the offences pursuant to Articles 8 and 9 of the Constitution, Articles 33, 83, 91 and 112 of the Criminal Code and Articles 14(2) and 16(1) of the
Computer-Related Crime Act.

2375. During the detention, Mr. Takor’s wife filed an application with the Court requesting bail for Mr. Takor. The Court dismissed the application on the ground that the King is a highly respected institution in Thailand and is inviolable by law. This case involved a serious threat to national security which constitutes grave offence. There was also the possibility of absconding since Mr. Takor was employed by a foreign company which entailed regular travel. The Court, therefore, ruled that there was no reasonable ground to grant his temporary release.

2376. On 30 March 2009, Mr. Suwicha Thakor pleaded guilty to all charges and on 3 April 2009 he was sentenced to 20 years in prison on two counts of ten years each. Since he pleaded guilty, his sentence was reduced to 10 years.

2377. The arrest, prosecution and adjudication in the case of Mr. Suwicha Thakor were conducted in an independent, transparent and impartial manner in compliance with Thai laws and international human rights standards. The above information explicitly indicates that the arrest and detention of Mr. Takor was not arbitrary but was done under the rule of law. Of this there should be no doubt. Mr. Takor still has the right to appeal his sentence to higher court or request for a royal pardon which can be done under the Criminal Procedure Code and the Thai Constitution. It should be added that it is not uncommon for royal pardons to be granted in lèse-majesté cases in Thailand.

2378. With respect to freedom of expression, the Minister of Justice has never called for a blanket ban on reporting on cases of lèse-majesté in the Thai media. The case of Mr. Takor and other cases relating to lèse-majesté have been widely reported in the Thai newspapers, television and websites which are the reflection of media freedom granted by the Thai Constitution.

2379. In this connection, the Royal Thai Government would like to share its view regarding the lèse-majesté law and its implication to the freedom of expression as follows:

(1) In any democratic country, it is commonly recognized that the Head of the State has a status different from that of ordinary citizens, being not an individual but an institution and a representative of the State. The King of Thailand is no exception. Such a status has been reflected in the constitutions of several democratic nations, especially the constitutions of those monarchies which stipulate the monarch’s position as being revered or inviolable. Defamation against the monarch or the King is an offence and carries a penalty of a prison term of varying duration depending on the laws of each country.

(2) Thailand, as a democratic country, values equality and freedom, particularly the freedom of expression. However, it is universally recognized that freedom of expression has limits and comes with certain responsibilities, but that such limitations must be placed by law. This principle is enshrined in Article 29(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Section 45 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand, B.E. 2550 (2007). As such, freedom of expression does not allow a person to verbally attack, insult or defame anyone, not to mention the Head of State.

(3) Many lèse-majesté cases in Thailand, including Mr. Takor’s case, do not involve only defamation but also incitement to hatred of the monarchy as well as the intention to generate misunderstanding among the public on the role of the King who is above conflicts and politics. This is the prime reason why a lèse-majesté case in Thailand is regarded as a threat to national security as well as a serious criminal offence.

(4) The monarch constitutes not only the most revered institution of the Thai people but also one of Thailand’s principal institutions that has upheld the nation’s stability and security throughout its entire history. The King has tirelessly devoted himself to alleviating the plight of the Thai people and to their well-being throughout his reign. He is very much revered and regarded as a “father” to all Thais who are highly protective towards him. This explains why the Thai people have low tolerance for those who violate lèse-majesté law. The provisions of the Thai Constitution and Criminal Code regarding lèse-majesté are the product of the will of the majority of Thai people to protect the institution they revere from harm. Lèse-majesté is regarded as not just harmful to the person insulted but to Thai society, ethics and culture as a whole.

(5) In conclusion, lèse-majesté law in Thailand is not aimed at restricting the legitimate right to freedom of expression. It is important to note that a number of lese majeste cases have not been prosecuted and some have been dropped in the Court. In some cases, the Court ruled that there was no intent to defame the King. It is “intent” that the Court uses as the basis for deliberations on lèse-majesté cases.

Urgent appeal

2380. On 31 July 2009, the Special Rapporteur, together with the Chairperson- Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, sent an urgent appeal regarding ongoing criminal investigations and charges being brought against individuals on the basis of the lèse majesté provisions of the Thai Criminal Code, namely Mr. Jitsanu Promsorn, Ms Chronic [Chiranuch] Premchaiporn, Ms Boonyuen Prasertying, and Ms Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul.

2381. A number of cases concerning lèse majesté have been the subject of communications sent on behalf of several mandate holders, most recently that relating to Mr. Suwicha Takor on 6 April 2009. On 15 September 2008, an urgent appeal letter was sent regarding the detention of Australian author Mr. Harry Nicolaides. A detailed response was received on 17 October 2008, but clarification is sought on the basis of new information received.

2382. According to new information received, in recent months, an increasing number of individuals have been subjected to criminal investigations and detained on charges of lèse majesté in accordance with Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. The aforementioned article stipulates that anyone who is found to have defamed, insulted or threatened a member of the monarchy shall be punishable with a sentence of between three and 15 years of imprisonment. Individuals have the right to file a complaint with the police against anyone who they deem to have defamed the monarch and members of the royal family. Police investigations often take years to process. There are about 32 lèse majesté cases pending with the Police Investigations Bureau, including the following:

2383. On 23 June 2009, Mr. Jitsanu Promsorn, a leader of the movement “United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship”, was arrested by police and is to be charged with violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code for allegedly making lese majesté remarks in a speech he made at Sanam Luang square in Bangkok.

2384. In April 2009, Ms Chronic [Chiranuch] Premchaiporn, owner of a news website (Prachatai.com) was arrested and charged with contravention of Article 112 of the Criminal Code. The charges relate to a comment posted by one user on her website which allegedly berated Queen Sirikit. Ms Premchaiporn faces multiple counts that could, potentially, lead to an extended prison sentence.

2385. On 20 January 2009, Dr. Giles Ji Ungpakorn, an associate Professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University, was charged with lèse majeste following a complaint received by police that his book entitled “A Coup for the Rich”, insulted the monarchy. The academic left for the United Kingdom on 8 February 2009 citing fears that he would not have a fair trial in Thailand.

2386. On 6 November 2008, Ms Boonyuen Prasertying, leader of the Progressive Citizen Group, was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment for defaming the Heir Apparent, with the penalty reduced to six years due to her guilty plea. Ms Prasertying was involved in demonstrations at Sanam Luang to protest against the military change of Government in 2006, and turned herself into the police on 15 August 2008 after being informed that she had been charged with lèse majesté.

2387. In July 2008, Ms Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, a campaigner for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was arrested after delivering a speech at a rally in Bangkok which criticised the manner by which the change of Government was brought about in 2006 and the monarchy. The trial began at the end of June 2009, with the judge ordering the case to be heard behind closed doors on national-security grounds. Ms Daranee remains in detention pending trial on charges of lèse majesté, despite being acquitted of other charges arising from the same events. The trial date has been set for 5 August 2009.

2388. In July 2009, police initiated an investigation into the entire Board of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT), including its Vice-President and British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC) correspondent Mr. Jonathan Head, on the grounds of lèse majesté. The FCCT board members include journalists employed by the BBC, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and Inter Press Service. The Board is reportedly being investigated for insulting the monarchy by producing and selling a compilation of DVDs, one of which contains a speech made at the club in August 2007 by Mr. Jakrapob Penkair, then Office Minister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The speech had been criticised as anti-monarchy by an individual who lodged the complaint. In addition, Mr. Head had already been facing lèse majeste charges for organizing the seminar which allowed Mr. Jakrapob to make the speech. Mr. Jakrapob also faced charges of lèse majesté related to the
presentation.

2389. The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MICT) has blocked 32,500 website pages citing lèse majesté grounds. Justice Minister, His Excellency Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, has called on concerned agencies to take urgent action against websites allegedly critical of the Thai monarchy. More than 10,000 websites are currently being monitored. It has also been reported that dozens of internet users who posted comments on web boards have been arrested and that some will face criminal charges. In 2007, the video sharing website “YouTube” was blocked for several months. In a recent development, the lèse majesté law has been enforced jointly with provisions of the 2007 Computer Crime Act.

2390. Concern was expressed that the aforementioned events may be a direct attempt to prevent independent reporting in Thailand, thus stifling freedom of expression in the country.

Response from the Government

2391. In a letter dated 19 November 2009, the Government informed that Thailand takes allegations concerning the lèse-majesté law very seriously, and will do its utmost to clarify any misunderstanding about the law. The Government provided the following information with regard to lèse-majesté law in Thailand.

2392. The lèse-majesté law is part of Thailand’s criminal code, which also contains general provisions on defamation and libel of private individuals. It provides that the King shall be held in a non-violable position and that the King shall be respected and no one shall accuse or file charges of any sort against him. This is in accordance with article 8 of the 2007 Thai Constitution.

2393. The rationale behind the law is to protect Thailand’s national security because under the Thai Constitution, the monarchy is one of Thailand’s principal institutions. As Thai history has shown, the bond between the Thai people and this principal institution is deeply rooted in the history of the Thai nationhood. Furthermore, the monarchy has been central to the Thai identity, even after Thailand changed from a system of absolute monarchy to a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

2394. The law also gives protection to the rights or reputation of the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent in a similar way libel law –which is a criminal offence- does for commoners. However, because of their exalted position – the King and other members of the Royal Family are above politics and are held with high reverence by the people- Thai law does not provide for the monarchy to take legal action against and be in conflict with the people or allow them to comment or act in their own defence. The rationale is also similar to the law on contempt of court. These institutions should remain above conflict and not be drawn into one.

2395. The law concerning lèse-majesté has been enacted not by any demand from those it aims to protect. The King himself is not to be averse of criticisms, having publicly expressed, in a nationwide address, his discomfort with the lèse-majesté law and his disagreement with the notion that “the King can do no wrong”. However, the King is not in a position to amend the law, which has the support of the general public. Legislative power lies entirely with the Parliament, which exercises the will of the Thai people.

2396. Due to what the King has done for their well-being, most Thais are profoundly respectful and highly protective toward the King. Such is part of the cultural or social values that have shaped the Thai public’s views regarding the lèse-majesté law and the protection of the monarchy as a principal institution.

2397. There is a real concern that in recent years, and amidst political differences, the monarchy has, for various reasons, been drawn into the current domestic political situation. In certain instances, the views expressed against the monarchy have been such that they advocate hatred or hostile feelings towards this important national institution and could undermine national security. Such a situation has prompted relevant government agencies to increase their monitoring and enforcement of applicable laws wherever violations occur.

2398. However, the Royal Thai Government recognizes that there have been problems with the enforcement of the lèse-majesté law, which have led to its abuse. The conditions for its enforcement will therefore be clarified. The Prime Minister has stated that the Government must uphold the laws, but would not allow people to interpret the laws too liberally and abuse them. He has already discussed with the Royal Thai Police about the necessity of enforcing the law with caution so that the law would not be abused. He has instructed the Ministry of Justice to draw up standard operation procedures so that the public knows the boundaries of this law.

2399. Thailand is committed to upholding the rights of all persons to freedom of opinion and expression as stipulated in the ICCPR and the 2007 Thai Constitution. The lèse-majesté law is not aimed at curing these rights, nor the legitimate exercise of academic freedom, including the debates concerning the monarchy as an institution, which have taken place in the past. However, when these comments and opinions amount to accusations, then the person concerned should also be held accountable for the views expressed. This applies whether the target of such accusations is an individual or the monarchy. The difference lies in the fact that the monarchy is constrained in defending itself against those accusations.

2400. The lèse-majesté law serves not only the purpose of upholding national security, but also provides such protection to the monarchy.

2401. As with other criminal offences, proceedings on lèse-majesté cases are conducted in accordance with due legal process. Under the Thai Criminal Procedure Code, a person who finds a suspected lèse-majesté act may, on his or her own, set in motion legal prosecution by lodging a formal complaint with the relevant authorities. Facts and evidence must then be gathered and investigated first by the police to establish the case before it can be submitted and screened by the public prosecutor in accordance with due process of law. Only thereafter may the public prosecutor bring the case before the court. Here it should be noted that complaints are dropped if the police finds no ground to proceed.

2402. According to the police statistics, in 2006, the police received 44 complaints related to Section 112 of the Criminal Code. Of these, the police recommended that 31 cases should not be prosecuted. In 2007, the police recommended prosecution in only 7 out of 36 cases. In 2008, out of a total of 56 cases, they recommended the public prosecutor to proceed with 20 and not to prosecute 8. Four cases were dropped and 24 remain under investigation.

2403. Throughout the legal process, the defendant has the right to contest the charges and the right to a fair trial, as well as assistance from a legal counsel, if the case is brought before the court.

2404. The court may decide to hold a trial on a lèse-majesté case in camera. Thai law provides that the judge may use discretion to hold closed trials in certain cases if they deemed to involve sensitive matters in the interest of public order, good morals or national security, which is consistent with practice in other countries as well as the relevant international law (art. 14 of the ICCPR).

2405. As for those found guilty, they have the right to appeal to higher courts, and once their cases become final, they may request royal pardons. It is not uncommon for royal pardons to be granted in such cases.

Letter of allegations

2406. On 28 August 2009, the Special Rapporteur sent a letter of allegation to the Government regarding the creation of an Information Technology taskforce within the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MICT) allegedly to enforce the lèse majesté provisions of the Thai Criminal Code.

2407. The Special Rapporteur noted that a number of communications concerning lèse majesté have been sent to the Government on behalf of several mandate holders, most recently that relating to criminal charges brought against individuals on the basis of lèse majesté on 31 July 2009. He expressed that he looked forward to receiving a response to the communication, but sought clarification on the basis of new information received.

2408. According to new information received, a new police taskforce, known as the Information Technology taskforce and headed by Police Lt. General Somdej Kahokahm, has been created within MICT. This taskforce reportedly includes webmasters and computer-literate personnel to monitor websites and to identify those posting content that violates lèse majesté.

2409. Concern was expressed that the creation of this body will further curtail the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Thailand, particularly given the fact that under the Computer Crime Act, which took effect in 2007, the individual records of Internet users must be kept by Internet Service Providers for 90 days and can be examined by the authorities without referring to a judge.

Observations

2410. The Special Rapporteur thanks the Government for its responses, but regrets that at the time of the finalization of this report, the Government had not transmitted a reply to his communication of 28 August 2009.





What is happening to LM prisoners?

18 04 2010

As the crisis continues to unfold in Bangkok, what is happening to those already convicted of lese majeste and imprisoned, such as Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul, Boonyuen Prasertying and Suwicha Thakor? What is happening with the growing number of pending cases, and those who are under investigation?

If any readers have knowledge to share, please send it to thaipoliticalprisoners@gmail.com.