Thai editor still held without bail for lèse majesté-Free Somyot

March 19, 2012

Thai editor still jailed on lèse majesté charges

Free Somyot Campaign: March 13, 2012


Supporters worldwide are stepping up their action to free Thailand’s Somyot Pruksakasemsuk. The veteran campaigner for democracy and labour rights has been in jail since April 2011 on lèse majesté charges. He is being held purely on remand. To date, the charges against him have not been proven. In any case, he is not accused of writing the features concerned. He is charged only with the “publication and dissemination” of two articles in the journal Voice of Thaksin, of which he was the acting editor but not the legal publisher. The charge sheet alleges that he thereby “dared to defame, insult, or threaten His Majesty King Bhumipol Adulyadej of the Kingdom of Thailand”. The full texts of the two articles are included in the charge sheet. Expert witnesses have testified that they do not refer to the King or other members of the Thai Royal Family.

The trial has put 50-year-old Somyot under great physical and psychological pressure. The court has insisted on moving him around from province to province for prosecution witness hearings, even though all the witnesses are in fact based in Bangkok. In all, he has been transported for more than 4,000 kilometres in cages. He is obliged to wear metal chains weighing more than 10kg.

Somyot’s release on bail has therefore become a priority for his supporters. But bail has been refused seven times – most recently in February 2012, just after Somyot’s son Tai went on hunger strike for 112 hours to demand his father’s release. The length of the fast was a reference to Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code, which prescribes severe punishment for acts of lèse majesté. If convicted, Somyot could face up to 15 years’ imprisonment for each of the two articles published.

Thailand’s lèse majesté law has come in for strong criticism at home and abroad.  In December 2011, for example, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced concern over “the ongoing trials and harsh sentencing of people convicted of lèse majesté in Thailand and the chilling effect that this is having on freedom of expression in the country”. Both Thai and foreign journalists have fallen foul of this law. Last December, US blogger Joe Gordon was jailed for two and a half years on charges of using the Internet to disseminate information that insulted the Thai monarchy. In 2009, leading Bangkok-based foreign correspondents were among those investigated by the police after a lèse majesté complaint was lodged against the entire Board of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk is well known in the international labour movement for his groundbreaking work on organising trade unions in Thailand and other newly industrialising countries. His imprisonment sparked labour protests both in Thailand and abroad. In November 2011, organisations including the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance wrote a joint letter to Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinnawatra, calling for the charges against Somyot to be dropped or bail to be granted. They also asked for the Thai lèse majesté law to be reviewed, so as to “ensure its conformity with Thailand’s international human rights obligations”.

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