Will Somyos be released?

23 07 2011

At 12 noon on Saturday, 30 April 2011, red shirt political activist and well-known labor rights advocate Somyos Pruksakasemsuk was arrested in Aranyaprathet province. He was apprehended on charges of violating Article 112, the lese majeste law. On Sunday, 23 July 2011, his maximum detention for investigation on the charge expires. Will he be released on Monday or charged?

The Bangkok Post reports that Somyos is hoping that he will be released.

Last Friday, in addition to on-going international activities in support of Somyos, “about 20 people rallied and chanted ‘Free Somyot, Free other Thai Political Prisoners’ in front of the Bangkok Remand Prison…”.

Somyos’s charge stems from an article published in his “Voice of Taksin” in February and March 2010 editions where an article allegedly contemptuous of the monarchy was printed under the name “Jitra Polchan.” Somyos’s lawyers have repeatedly requested bail and each time this has been denied.

The case of Somyos, imprisoned as an editor of a magazine, is yet one more example of the extreme political bias used by the authorities at the behest of the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and its supporters to silence red shirt media. Somyos is a political prisoner who must be released.

AHRC – Criminalization of free speech ahead of election

3 06 2011

PPT received this from the AHRC. We reproduce it in full:

June 3, 2011

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

THAILAND: Criminalization of free speech ahead of election

In May 2011, the government of Thailand announced that the country would go to a national election on July 3. It might have been expected that this announcement would result in a lessening of the threats against, and arrests of, persons trying to exercise free speech. In fact, the opposite is the case. Since the announcement over three weeks ago, the government seems to have gone into overdrive in its efforts to criminalize free speech, shutting down radio stations and ordering the arrest of dissident voices on the pretext that they are anti-royalist.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has paid especially close attention to the continued laying of lese majesty charges for trivial or non-existent offences against the monarchy. The number of cases brought under section 112 of the Criminal Code of Thailand and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act has continuously risen since the 19 September 2006 coup. Within the last three months there has been a further escalation of the criminalization of speech allegedly critical of the monarchy, on which the AHRC has already issued a statement (AHRC-STM-056-2011), as has its sister organization, the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC-CWS-17-01-2011), in the UN.

In recent weeks, free expression has become an even more dangerous endeavour in Thailand than it was earlier, as highlighted here by three cases which signal the gravity of the threat not only to the freedom of expression in the short term, but also to human rights more broadly. The first is the case of Mr. Aekkechai Hongkangwan, who has been released on bail; and, the others are the cases of Mr. Joe Gordon and Mr. Somyos Preuksakasemsuk, who remain under detention.

Aekkachai Hongkangwan, age 35, was indicted on 23 May 2011 at the Criminal Court in Bangkok for allegedly disseminating CDs containing a documentary by ABC television and WikiLeaks materials which are offensive to the King, the Queen and the Heir Apparent. He has also been accused of selling CDs without a license. The police arrested Aekkachai on 10 March 2011 at Sanam Luang, after enticing him into selling a CD for 20 baht. The police seized over 100 CDs, a CD burner and 10 copies of WikiLeaks materials. He was released at that time on bail. The Criminal Court has set 11 July 2011 as the date on which evidence examination will begin.

Joe Gordon, age 54, is a Thai-American man who has been arrested on charges of violating section 112. He was arrested in Nakhon Ratchasima on 26 May 2011 for allegedly doing no more than posting a link on his blog to Paul Handley’s unauthorized biography of King Bhumipol, “The King Never Smiles”. The book is banned in Thailand. Prachatai online news reported that his arrest was carried out by a group of 20 officials from the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), Ministry of Justice, who came to search his house and seized his money, cellular phone, computer, and hard drive. When the officials arrived, Gordon had just bathed and was only wearing a towel; they would not allow him to get dressed while they searched his house. DSI then transported him from Nakhon Ratchasima, which is in the central northeast of the country, to Bangkok Remand Prison. Reports indicate that the DSI has been investigating his case for nearly two years. Gordon just returned to Thailand last year after living in the United States for the past 30 years.

Somyos Preuksakasemsuk, age 51, is a long-time labour activist who in 2007 began to edit the “Voice of Taksin” magazine, a political publication opposed to the current government. Officials detained him without charge in May 2010, at the time of the protests in Bangkok that ended in bloodshed. After the authorities released Somyos he started a new publication, “Red Power”. The DSI arrested him on a charge under section 112, on 30 April 2011, when he passed through immigration while leading a tour group to Cambodia. The arrest warrant was issued over two months earlier, but the authorities waited to execute it until he tried to cross a national border. The alleged crime stems from an article in an issue of Voice of Taksin, which Somyos edited. In this case, much like in the case against webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn, on which the AHRC has established a campaign webpage, Somyos is being prosecuted not for anything he said or did himself, but on the basis of someone else’s writing in a publication he edited. The Criminal Court has denied Somyos’s repeated requests for bail on the basis that he is accused of committing a grave crime against the monarchy and national security and may be a flight risk.

All three of these individuals have had their speech–or rather, others’ speech for which they have been held liable–criminalized because the contents of the speech were allegedly damaging to the monarchy. Two aspects stand out. The first is the use of the monarchy as an avenue through which to charge, prosecute and detain persons who have done no more than exercise a basic right to speak about matters of public and national importance, which should not be off limits to anyone. This problematic use of the law in Thailand, and especially the lese majesty law, has been steadily on the rise since the 2006 coup. The second is the increasing tendency to criminalize speech in Thailand by targeting persons responsible only for the assisting in some small way in the distribution or redistribution of other persons’ opinions: even something as trivial as a website link or a few burned CDs is seemingly enough to land an accused in a tight spot, both in a criminal case and in prison.

Together, what the cases show is that in the lead up to the election next month, not only is speech being increasingly criminalized in Thailand, but so too is the simple circulation of different types of thought; indeed, any types of thought not explicitly or tacitly officially endorsed. Although the precise relationship between the upsurge in targeting of free speech and the upcoming elections is unclear, what is clear is that the continued criminalization of free speech in Thailand makes the prospect of a fair election unlikely, and bodes ill for the longer term progress of the country back towards a meaningful commitment to human rights.

In light of the above, the Asian Human Rights Commission calls on the government of Thailand for the immediate release of Joe Gordon and Somyos Preuksakasemsuk on bail and for a review of all pending cases under section 112 and under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act. The AHRC also calls for a firm commitment from the government of Thailand that it will order a cessation of such arrests and will enable, rather than inhibit, the emergence of free speech into the lead up of the election, as well as in its aftermath.

NHRC and lese majeste

24 05 2011

To date the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has been pretty much a puppet of the current regime and has done precious little about any of the gross human rights abuses seen in the country during the term of this Commission.

The only Commissioner who has seemed in any way concerned about human rights has been Niran Pithakwatchara, who chairs the sub-committee on civil and political rights. The Bangkok Post reports that Niran’s sub-committee is to “begin a study on whether the content and current use of the Criminal Code’s lese majeste clause, Article 112, is constitutional.”

PPT can only assume that this is an important turn of events and that Niran is adopting a strategy that is walking a thin line.

The “NHRC sub-committee chairman said on Monday that the controversial use of the lese majeste law was urgently called into question, since it could be a condition leading to violence in society.”

The NHRC sub-committee’s first hearing last week saw about “60 participants, including those being imprisoned, harassed and implicated as a result of  people citing Article 112.” Niran said the sub-committee hoped to complete its report “in the next few months” and report to the government and to the public.

His sub-committee includes “well-known human rights activists Somchai Homla-or, Jon Ungphakorn, Boonthan T. Verawongse, and Sunai Phasuk, would examine human rights abuses in the cases of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a trade unionist and a red-shirt editor of the Voice of [Taksin], and Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a senior historian at Thammasat University.” It seems the cases of Somyos and Somsak are to be the subcommittee’s “study platform.”

Niran said stated that his work is”not be just an academic exercise but a means to protect the rights of the people and provide some solution in the event there was injustice in applying the lese majeste clause…”. He admitted that the issue of lese majeste is not an easy matter and referred to “also surmounting internal self-adjustment difficulties within the (NHRC) office…”. That seems clear, but the question remains: will Niran be prevented from investigating and reporting?

Sulak Sivaraksa said the “Privy Council and the NHRC should have the intellectual courage to lead the discussion about the role of the monarchy in a democratic system.” Intellect and courage are not terms easily associated with either body in recent years.

Niran also spoke with officials regarding Somyos, with the prison commander saying he considered “Somyot had been so stressed out that he thought of committing suicide.” Niran added that Somyos needed bail to be able to “prepare his defence against the charge.”

In a related development, Indonesian trade unionists of the Konfederasi KASBI (Confederation of Congress of Indonesian Unions Alliance) have called for Somyos’s release and expressing concerns about his safety in an open letter to a seemingly uninterested Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The union group “said they believed his arrest was part of a systematic repression of pro-democracy activists in Thailand.” And, in an action that PPT would love to see becoming more widespread, the group “urged the Thai government to release all political prisoners; stop using the lese majeste law to persecute pro-democracy activists; abolish all draconian censorship laws; and ensure justice for those killed during the April-May violence last year.”

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