Unending lese majeste detention

6 11 2018

Adilur Rahman Khan is the Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights or FIDH. He has recently stated:

The detention and prosecution of Siraphop Kornaroot violate his fundamental rights to liberty, freedom of expression, and a fair trial – all rights guaranteed by international treaties to which Thailand is a state party. It is very disturbing that after more than four years there is no end in sight for Siraphop’s trial and the military court, which should not try civilians in the first place, continues to deny him bail.

This statement is in the context of the FIDH and its partner organization, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights having petitioned the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, seeking the release of lese-majeste defendant Siraphop.

The statement by FIDH observes:

Siraphop, 55, has been detained for more than four years and four months – the longest time for a person currently charged or serving a prison sentence under Article 112. Siraphop was arrested on 1 July 2014 in Bangkok and is currently incarcerated at the Bangkok Remand Prison. Since July 2014, the Bangkok Military Court has rejected Siraphop’s bail applications seven times, the most recent today, 5 November 2018. His trial before the Bangkok Military Court has been ongoing since 24 September 2014.

Also known as Rung Sila, Sirapop has been held for almost 1,600 days without his trial in a military court having been completed.

In petitioning the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, FIDH and TLHR called for:

the immediate and unconditional release of Siraphop and for all the charges against him to be dropped. FIDH and TLHR also urge the government to end the abuse of lèse-majesté and immediately and unconditionally release those detained or imprisoned under Article 112 for the mere exercise of their fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Sirapop has refused to plead guilty. This often leads to not just arbitrariness on the part of the military junta and judiciary, but a vindictiveness that amounts to lese majeste torture.





Lese majeste lies, nonsense and repression

7 02 2016

The lese majeste conviction train has been traveling at a speed that makes everything else the military junta does seem like extra-slow motion. We use this post to catch up on some recent lese majeste stories.

At Prachatai: lese majeste lunacy is reported, yet it is unclear who is suffering mental illness. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights “the military Judge Advocate General’s office has scheduled a hearing on 20 April 2016, when military prosecutors will decide whether to indict Sao (surname withheld due to privacy concerns) under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law.

Sao, “who claims that he has telepathic powers to communicate with Thaksin Shinawatra,” was assessed by psychiatrists from the Galya Rajanagarindra Institute and they concluded that” Sao is fit to stand on trial in a military court…”.

It is bizarre that trained psychiatrists would come to such conclusions. Perhaps they suffer some kind of royalist psychosis.

In another story of lese majeste oddities, we note that Pavin Chachavalpongpun has a remarkable ability to get under the skin of the royalists who currently rule over Thailand. Almost everything he writes gets a high-level response and royalists are sometimes showing up when he speaks to provide usually crude responses to his views, if they don’t get to shout him down.

Usually for op-eds in foreign newspapers, Thailand’s ambassadors are tasked with responding with cliched royalisms, usually bending and breaking the truth. However, in responding to a recent Japan Times op-ed by Pavin, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs does him the honor of having Sek Wannamethee, Director-General of its Department of Information respond.

Sek says he wants “to clarify some points” but actually muddies and muddles the royal waters.

His first attempt to alter history is to assert that “the monarchy has been and always remains above politics.” By now, almost everyone with even a smidgen of interest in Thailand knows this is a steaming pile of horse manure.

His second to alter history is to assert that “the main purpose of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [he means the junta] to take control of national administration were to provide a cooling-off period for all sides, and to prevent further violence, restore stability, as well as to put the country back on track toward full democracy.”

This is clearly nonsense and a lie that the junta and its flunkies trot out to in the face of facts that say something quite different.

To assert that there is no “association between the monarchy and the operation of the [junta] is completely misleading and totally out of context,” is to deny the junta’s own claims about its raison d’etre. It proclaims its loyalty, it capacity to “protect” the monarchy and Prem Tinsulanonda supports the junta for its loyalty. It is clear that the military is hoping to manage succession.

His next claim, that “the lese majeste law is part of Thailand’s Criminal Code, giving protection to the rights or reputations of the king, the queen, the heir apparent, or the regent in a similar way libel law does for commoners” is one repeatedly made. It is repeatedly denied by academics and activists. For a start, the law has been applied far more widely than the persons mentioned. That’s a fact. When was the last time that libel saw a person sentenced to 60 years in jail?

To argues that the law “is not aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of expression nor the legitimate exercise of academic freedom, including debates about the monarchy as an institution” is simply a lie.

In another lie, when he denies that “the current government has tightened up its measures against lese majeste charges as the cases become more politicized is an overstatement of the current situation.” Again, its a fact. Mammoth jail sentences, scores of cases and military courts say Sek’s a propagandist.

Some international bodies do recognize the arbitrariness and politicized nature of lese majeste. A Prachatai report tells us that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention “has requested that Thailand immediately release lèse-majesté detainee Pornthip Munkong aka Golf and award her compensation for the arbitrary detention she has been subjected to…”. Apparently, this opinion was adopted on 2 December 2015, arguing that Pornthip’s

… detention is arbitrary because it contravenes Articles 9 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Articles 9(3) and 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Thailand is a state party to the ICCPR. The referenced provisions guarantee the fundamental right to liberty, the right to a fair trial, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

PPT suggests that almost all lese majeste incarcerations fall into this category.

Dare we say it, but military prosecutors have shown some sense on lese majeste. For the first time, “have dismissed lèse majesté charges against three suspects accused of defaming the Thai monarchy on Facebook.”

The Judge Advocate General’s Office “decided not indict Jaruwan E., 26, Anon, 22, and Chat, 20, accused of using a Facebook page under the name of Jaruwan to defame the King.” Police had charged them with lese majeste  and computer crimes in mid-November 2014. They were imprisoned for almost three months.

Jaruwan denied all charges and claimed an unhappy suitor was responsible for the Facebook account. It seems the prosecutors have finally agreed.





AHRC on Somyos

22 01 2013

The Asian Human Right Commission has issued this press release on the upcoming lese majeste verdict in the case against Somyos Prueksakasemsuk. PPT reproduces it in full:

PRESS RELEASE

AHRC-PRL-003-2013

THAILAND: Arbitrary detention of a human rights defender and continued removal of constitutional protections

Hong Kong, January 22, 2013

On December 19, 2012, the Criminal Court in Bangkok was scheduled to deliver the verdict in the case of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, who has been charged under Article 112 of the Criminal Code.  The reading of the decision was rescheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday, January 23, 2013, at 9 am at the Criminal Court in Bangkok. The Asian Human Rights Commission urges all individuals concerned with freedom of expression, and human rights broadly, to attend the reading of the verdict if possible, and if not, to follow developments in this case closely.

Somyot Prueksakasemsuk is a long-time labour rights activist and human rights defender in Thailand. Since 2007, he has been the editor of Voice of Taksin magazine. He was arrested and taken into custody on April 30, 2011, and shortly thereafter charged with two violations of Article 112 of the Criminal Code, which states that “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”  In Somyot’s case, the charges were for allegedly allowing two articles with anti-monarchy content to be published in Voice of Taksin magazine.  Somyot was held for six months of pre-trial detention; the hearings in his trial began on November 12, 2011 and continued until May 3, 2012.  Similar to the majority of individuals who have been charged under Article 112, his repeated requests for bail were denied on the basis of the gravity of the charges against him.  In August 2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted that Somyot’s detention was arbitrary because “he has been detained for his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and expression provided for” in both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Read the full opinion of the Working Group here).

The reason given by the Criminal Court for the deferral of the reading of the decision on December 19, 2012, and therefore the extension of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk’s arbitrary detention, was the need to read a comment by the Constitutional Court in relation to Article 112 of the Criminal Code. The comment, dated October 2012, addressed a petition submitted by Somyot as well as a petition submitted by Ekachai Hongkangwan, who is being prosecuted in a separate case for alleged violations of Article 112. The comment addressed whether or not Article 112 was in contravention to Article 3 (2), Article 29, and Article 45 (1, 2) of the Constitution (The full comment can be read in Thai here).  In response to concerns about each of these provisions of the Constitution, the Constitutional Court ruled that Article 112 did not stand in contravention and was therefore constitutional.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is gravely concerned by the stance taken by the Constitutional Court in their comment and their cavalier dismissal of the significant concerns presented. With regard to each of the three articles of the Constitution raised as contravened by Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the Court’s explanation is at best, vague, and at worst, ideological. What makes this comment significant is both the potential impact it may have on the judgment rendered in Somyot Prueksakasemsuk’s case, as well as other lese majeste cases and the broad frame of freedom of expression and human rights in Thailand.

The Constitutional Court frames their comment by citing Articles 2 and 8 of the Constitution. Article 2 states that “Thailand adopts a democratic form of government with the King as Head of the State.” Article 8 states that “The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated.  No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action.” The Court then notes that Thailand has had a king as head of state “for a long time, since the Sukhothai era, even though there was a transformation in 1932 to be a democratic regime with the king as head of the state under a constitution.” The Court continues, noting that “Up until the current constitution of the kingdom, the form of regime remains one with the king as head of the state.” The Court then comments on what this means, offering the interpretation that “This demonstrates the great respect, esteem, and admiration held by the people for the institution of the monarchy. The place of the Thai king as the respected and beloved center of the Thai people has been continuous, as shown in age-old royal traditions and legal conventions. The king has administered with virtue and taken action with the intention of the well-being of the people. In particular, King Bhumipol Adulyadej, the current monarch, greatly contributes to the nation and gives royal grace to the Thai people. He visits the people and bestows royally-conceived projects in different areas in order to alleviate the suffering and solve the problems and troubles of the people. He teaches the people to subsist in line with the principles of the sufficiency economy, by living in line with the middle way, having enough, and being prepared to face changes which may arise. Ordinary people are aware of the king’s conduct and his generosity. They therefore have deep-seated respect, trust, and loyalty for the king and the institution of the monarchy. The long-standing patronage of the Thai king has made the Thai people to continually respect, love, and admire the king. This is a unique characteristic of Thailand held by no other country.” For this reason, the Constitutional Court explains that the state provides protection because the king is the head of state and a primary institution of the country.  The Court then notes that Article 112 of the Criminal Code is a complimentary provision to Article 8 of the Constitution.

In addition, the Constitutional Court also frames the comment by noting that the purpose of Article 112 of the Criminal Code is to “control the behavior of individuals in society, protect safety, and safeguard public peace for members of society, including strengthening the security in society.”  The reason why it is appropriate to do so is because speech deemed to insult, defame, or threaten the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent, “may be action that destroys the hearts of Thai people who have respect, love, and are loyal to the king and the institution of the monarchy, and may cause resentment among the people.”

After this introduction, which foreshadows the Constitutional Court’s dismissal of the two petitions at hand, and any future petitions, the Court turns to specifically address Article 112 of the Criminal Code in relation to Article 3 (2), Article 29, and Article 45 (1, 2) of the Constitution.

Article 3 (2) of the Constitution states that “The National Assembly, the Council of Ministers, the Courts, other Constitutional organizations and State agencies shall perform duties of office by the rule of law.” The petition noted that the classification of Article 112 of the Criminal Code as a crime of national security, and the corresponding harsh punishment, was not in line with the rule of law. In response, the Constitutional Court notes that Thailand is a democratic regime with the king as head of state. The Court further argues that the monarchy is in a special position, and therefore a special law is just because the monarchy is a primary pillar of the nation, owing to history, royal tradition, and legal convention. Rather than addressing the question of national security, and how an alleged violation of Article 112 of the Criminal Code might affect it, the Constitutional Court instead attempts to redefine the rule of law to include special protection for particular individuals within the polity. i.e., the king, queen, heir-apparent, and regent.

The Constitutional Court examined Article 29 and Article 45 (1, 2) together. Article 29 is in the section of the Constitution which addresses rights, liberties, and human dignity in a broad sense, and states that “(1) The restriction of such rights and liberties as recognized by the Constitution shall not be imposed on a person except by virtue of provisions of the law specifically enacted for the purpose determined by this Constitution and only to the extent of necessity and provided that it shall not affect the essential substance of such rights and liberties. (2) The law under paragraph one shall be of general application and shall not be intended to apply to any particular case or person provided that the provision of the Constitution authorizing its enactment shall also be mentioned therein. (3) The provisions of paragraph one and paragraph two shall apply mutatis mutandis to rules or regulations issued by virtue of the provisions of the law.” Article 45  states “(1) A person shall enjoy the liberty to express his or her opinion, make speeches, write, print, publicize, and make expression by other means. (2) The restriction on liberty under paragraph one shall not be imposed except by virtue of the provisions of law specifically enacted for the purpose of maintaining the security of the State, safeguarding the rights, liberties, dignity, reputation, family or privacy rights of other persons, maintaining public order or good morals of preventing the deterioration of the mind or health of the public.” In response, the Constitutional Court argues that Article 112 of the Criminal Code does not have any effects on freedom of expression. The Court further notes that freedom of expression must be in line with the Constitution, and speech which defames, insults, or threatens the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent is not, and so Article 112 of the Criminal Code does not limit freedom of expression.

The Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to note one line in the Constitution not mentioned by the Court in their comment. The first sentence of Article 3 notes that “The Sovereign power belongs to the Thai people.” Throughout this comment, rather than specifying how the Constitution might be used to uphold the rights and liberties of the people, the Constitutional Court has instead specified the conditions under which the people do not have rights, or recourse to demand their rights.  Combined with a comment issued in 2011 in response to a petition filed by Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul (See AHRC-FAT-038-2011), the Constitutional Court seems to have taken up the task of systematically stripping rights and liberties out of the Constitution.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is concerned about what this comment may mean for the specific case of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, who faces a maximum sentence of up to 30 years if convicted, as well as what it means broadly. The AHRC urges all concerned parties to observe the Criminal Court decision in the case of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk tomorrow and to closely follow related developments in other cases and Thai state actions and comments in relations to Article 112 of the Criminal Code.





Somyos in “arbitrary detention”

17 10 2012

The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was asked to provide an opinion on the detention without bail of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, held in jail since his arrest on 30 April 2011, and charged under the lese majeste law.

At its meeting in late August 2012, the Working Group considered his case and has issued an Opinion that will appear in the Group’s annual report. In short, the UN’s Working Group has determined that:

“The deprivation of liberty of Mr Prueksakasemsuk, being in contravention of Articles 19 of the UDHR [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] and 19 (2) of the ICCPR [International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights], is arbitrary, and falls in categories II of the categories applicable to the cases submitted to the Working Group.

As a result of the Opinion rendered, the Working Group requests the Government to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of Mr Prueksaksemsuk and bring it into conformity with the standards and principles set forth in the ICCPR.

The Working Group believes that, taking into account all circumstances of the case, the adequate remedy would be to release Mr Prueksakasemsuk and accord him and enforceable right to compensation pursuant to Article 9(5) of the ICCPR”.

The full Opinion is available here as a PDF.

This is good news for Somyos and for all others charged and detained under this draconian and political law that has long been used to lock up opponents, limit free speech and intimidate citizens. Whether the Opinion will see any action from the Yingluck Shinawatra government is doubtful, however, as this government has adopted a political strategy that means it is timid and cowed before the conservative royalist elite.