Thailand court sentences magazine editor to 11 years for royal insult

[JURIST] A Thai court sentenced magazine editor and political activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk under Thailand's lese majeste law to a total of 11 years in prison. Section 112 of the Thai Penal Code [text] is the lese majeste law, which reads: "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." Somyot was sentenced [BBC report] to five years for each of two articles negatively mentioning the monarchy that he published under pseudonyms [AP report] in his magazine, Voice of Taksin, in 2010. He was sentenced to an additional year from a suspended defamation case that was over three years old. Somyot and the magazine were associated with Thailand's "red-shirt" [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] movement, which led anti-government protests in 2010 [JURIST report]. Somyot was arrested five days after launching a petition calling for a review of the lese majeste laws. The sentence has been criticized by both Human Rights Watch [advocacy website], which said the ruling was more akin to punishment [press release] for Somyot's support for amending the lese majeste law than it was about any harm to the monarchy, and by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile], who said [press release], "People exercising freedom of expression should not be punished in the first place." Sumyot's lawyer has said he will appeal the verdict but will not seek a royal pardon.

Thailand's lese majeste laws have generated controversy. US citizen Joe Gordon was released [JURIST report] from a Thai prison in July on a royal pardon that commuted a two-and-a-half-year sentence for defaming the Thai royal family. Gordon was sentenced [JURIST report] in December 2011 after pleading guilty in October. UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue [official website] recently condemned the lese majeste law [JURIST report] shortly after the guilty plea was submitted: "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. ... This is exacerbated by the fact that the charges can be brought by private individuals and trials are often closed to the public." In 2009 Amnesty International [advocacy website] called for a public trial [JURIST report] for a Thai political activist accused of lese majeste. In 2009 a Thai court sentenced an anti-coup protester to 18 years in prison [JURIST report].

 

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