Govt hypocrisy over lèse majesté laws-The Nation
March 5, 2012
Govt being hypocritical over lese majeste law
The Nation: February 29, 2012
No reports claiming human-rights improvements in Thailand will be relevant as long as the government refuses to address the issue of the lese majeste law.
The current government told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva this week that the rights situation here had improved, but it did not mention lese majeste.
Since the 2006 coup that toppled Thaksin Shinawatra’s government, hundreds of lese majeste charges have been filed against people. In fact, one of the accusations filed against Thaksin by the coup-makers was just that. In addition, the coup-makers’ partner, the People’s Alliance for Democracy, has been campaigning to deem even the slightest criticism against the monarchy as lese majeste. The PAD has filed a lot of lese majeste suits against its opponents.
In a move to demonstrate its loyalty to the monarchy, the previous government under the Democrat Party’s Abhisit Vejjajiva also used the lese majeste law and other decrees such as the so-called law on computer crime to suppress its opponents, activists and academics.
Ironically, the current government is doing little to help the red shirts who face lese majeste charges, even though they were the very people who put this administration in power. These red-shirt supporters were charged with offending the monarchy while campaigning against the previous government – a campaign that put Thaksin’s little sister Yingluck in the seat of power. Punishment under Article 112 of the Penal Code is very harsh and those convicted can face up to 15 years in jail. Freedom on bail in this case is very rare and the court has already rejected several requests for bail, especially from the red shirts.
In fact, some of these requests were rejected several times. For instance, the court rejected a bail request from labour activist Somyot Preuksakasemsuk up to seven times, with the most recent being on February 20. The hunger strike held by his son on February 11 outside the Criminal Court also failed to get any attention.
Somyot was arrested over lese majeste charges last April 30 in connection with articles published in the now-banned Voice of Taksin red-shirt magazine.
Similarly, former communist insurgent Surachai Danwattananusor’s bail application was rejected five times, despite his poor health. In contrast, PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul, who was arrested over lese majeste charges on July 5, 2010, was granted bail the very same day, New York-based Human Rights Watch said. Sondhi was charged for quoting Daranee Charnchernsilapakul word for word. Daranee was sentenced to 15 years in prison last December over lese majeste charges.
The connection between Sondhi’s and Daranee’s cases has raised questions about the practice of law in this country. Rights advocates have wondered why similar cases involving the same charge under the same law are handled totally differently. Of course, the government could say it does not have any authority to intervene in the justice system and that the question of granting or rejecting bail lies totally in the court’s hands. However, the government does have the authority to address this issue as part of its human-rights practice.
The lese majeste law is in itself problematic. Law academics and civic groups are now campaigning to amend it, but the government has said it would never support such an initiative. So if this is the stance it is going to take, then it is quite ridiculous for this government to say that the human-rights situation in Thailand has improved.