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Thailand: Five Years On, Free Editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk

Thursday 28 April 2016 - 1:00am

Somyot campaign image28 April 2016                                                                                    

Update #1 to RAN 04/13

30 April marks the five year anniversary of the imprisonment of social activist and editor, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk (also written Somyot Pruksakasemsuk). Prueksakasemsuk was arrested on 30 April 2011 for publishing two articles deemed defamatory of the Thai monarchy. PEN demands his immediate and unconditional release, in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a state party. PEN urges that he is granted access to all necessary medical care whilst detained and is protected from ill-treatment. It also calls for the amendment of Article 112 of the Penal Code, which is commonly used to criminalise peaceful dissent and free speech.

Please send appeals:

  • Protesting the harsh sentence handed down to prominent activist and editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, and calling for his immediate and unconditional release in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party;
  • Demanding that Somyot Prueksakasemsuk is given immediate access to reading material and is permitted to partake in recreational activities;
  • Expressing serious concern for Somyot Prueksakasemsuk‘s well-being and urging authorities to provide him with adequate medical treatment while detained and to ensure that he is protected from ill-treatment;
  • Expressing alarm about the continued use of lèse majesté laws to criminalise free expression, and urging an amendment to Article 112 of the Penal Code in order to ensure that it meets Thailand’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression.

Appeals to:

Prime Minister
Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha
Government House
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit
Bangkok 10300
Thailand
Fax: 011 66 2 282-5131
E-mail: prforeign@gmail.com
Salutation: Your Excellency

The Director of Bangkok Remand Prison
Bangkok Remand Prison
33 Ngam wong wan road,
Ladyao, Jatujak,
Bangkok 10900,
Thailand

Please also send copies of your appeals to the Thai Embassy in your country. Contact details for embassies can be found here.

**Please contact the PEN office in London if sending appeals after 30 May 2016** Please keep us informed of any action you take in regard to Somyot Prueksakasemsuk’s case, including any responses you receive from the authorities.

PUBLICITY

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the situation about freedom of expression in Thailand.
  • Organise public events, stage readings, press conferences or demonstrations.
  • Share information about Thailand and your campaigning activities for Somyot Prueksakasemsuk via social media

Suggested tweet: #Thailand: Five Years On, Free Editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk #FreeSomyot http://www.pen-international.org/?p=32663

SOLIDARITY

  • Elect Somyot Prueksakasemsuk as an Honorary Member of your Centre and by doing so provide long term support and advocacy for him and his family. For details of the PEN International Honorary Membership scheme, read the PEN WiPC Guide to Defending Writers Under Attack  (Part V, pgs 15-20). Please let us know if you do so and we will ensure that your Centre is networked with others working on the case.
  • Send a letter or postcard of solidarity to Somyot Prueksakasemsuk

Address:
Somyot Prueksakasemsuk
Bangkok Remand Prison, Section 1
33 Ngam wong wan road,
Ladyao, Jatujak, Bangkok 10900,
Thailand

Background

A former labour rights activist and editor of the now-defunct magazine Voice of Taksin, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was arrested on 30 April 2011, five days after he launched a petition campaign to collect 10,000 signatures required for a parliamentary review of Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code, which prohibits acts of insulting, defaming or threatening Thailand's king, heir apparent or Regent.

Thailand’s lèse majesté laws are among the world’s strictest laws against insult and have remained unchanged since 1908. According to Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, any person who ‘defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent’ will be punished with up to 15 years in prison

Prueksakasemsuk was ill-treated during his 20 months of pre-trial detention, during which all of his twelve applications for bail were denied by authorities. On 30 August 2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Prueksakasemsuk's detention was arbitrary and called for his immediate and unconditional release.

On 23 January 2013, the Bangkok Criminal Court found Prueksakasemsuk guilty of lèse majesté offenses under the very same article that he had been campaigning to amend (Article 112 of the Criminal Code). Prosecutors argued that two satirical articles published in the Voice of Taksin made negative references to the monarchy. He was sentenced to 5 years for each count of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, and received an additional year for a previous suspended sentence related to a separate defamation case dating back to 2009.

On 19 September 2014, the Court of Appeal upheld the Bangkok Criminal Court’s lèse-majesté conviction of Pruekasakasemsuk. The Court of Appeal failed to notify Pruekasakasemsuk, his lawyer, and his family members that the hearing would take place on that day. On 19 November 2014, Pruekasakasemsuk filed an appeal to the Supreme Court against his conviction. He remains in detention awaiting its verdict.

Prueksakasemsuk suffers from hypertension and gout and there are concerns for his health, which is said to have deteriorated during his detention.

The Thai monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has been on the throne for six decades and is given an almost god-like status by many Thais. Since the introduction of a constitutional monarchy in 1932, Thailand has been a hotbed of political instability, experiencing alternating periods of democracy and military rule. In May 2014, Thailand underwent its 12th successful military coup d’état following almost seven months of escalating political violence.

The coup imposed martial law and a curfew, dissolved the Senate – the only remaining national government body with elected members – and granted wide-ranging executive and legislative powers to its military leaders. In the wake of the coup, tight control of the media was imposed; many television and radio stations were shut down and journalists and academics arrested. Martial law was finally revoked in March 2015. Since the coup, the number of trials and detentions related to lèse majesté offences has significantly increased in order to silence dissent.

UN human rights mechanisms have repeatedly clarified that criminal defamation and insult laws, including lèse-majesté laws, are incompatible with international standards on free expression.  In 2011, the then UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue called on Thailand to reform its lèse-majesté laws. He said, “The threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” In 2014, a spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterated concern about the law and the rising number of cases opened in Thailand since the coup, citing its chilling effect on free expression.

Read a piece by Wad Rawee, novelist, editor, social and cultural critic, written to mark the five year anniversary of the imprisonment of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, here.

For further information please contact Emma Wadsworth-Jones at PEN International, Unit A Koops Mill Mews, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: emma.wadsworth-jones@pen-international.org.

Related

The Case of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk: Guilty of Lèse Majesté for Reaching a Different Interpretation
Locked up for five years: The life and ideals of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk
Thailand: Editor sentenced to 11 years for defamatory articles