On the 23rd of January, a Criminal Court judge sentenced Red Shirt activist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk to 10 years imprisonment for publishing two articles that violated Thailand’s notorious lèse majesté law, enshrined in article 112 of the Thai criminal code. Somyot’s arrest, detention, and verdict betrays Thailand’s disregard for the fundamental human rights that should be at the basis of any true democracy.
Detained for 21 months and denied bail 12 times, Somyot has had his human rights violated by the Thai judicial system from day one. Somyot, his wife Sukanya Prueksakasemsuk, and many in the Red Shirt and anti-112 camp, firmly believe that his arrest in April 2011, under the Abhisit administration, was politically motivated. Not only was Somyot a prominent Red Shirt with a long history of activism on labour issues, he was organizing a petition to challenge, and potentially abolish, article 112.
In fact, Somyot maintains that he had a target on his back after he refused to collaborate with the Abhisit administration during the Red Shirt protests in April-May 2010. Temporarily detained by the officers of the Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES), he was offered preferential treatment in exchange for testimony that the UDD was directly affiliated with the nebulous “men in black”. He promptly refused.
Now Somyot faces 10 years in prison –plus an additional year for a previously suspended defamation sentence– because of two articles that appeared in the magazine Voice of Thaksin where he worked as an editor. He did not write the articles, nor did he consider them defamatory as no names were mentioned.
The Criminal Court’s decision has sparked domestic and international outrage. UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay expressed her deep concern about the verdict.
The conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of Somyot sends the wrong signals on freedom of expression in Thailand. The court’s decision is the latest indication of a disturbing trend in which lèse-majesté charges are used for political purposes.
Considering the political nature of Somyot’s case, the UDD hopes that the proposed draft amnesty decree would be applicable to him. The draft decree stipulates that “all persons who have been charged of committing any crime stemming from the political conflict between 1 January 2006 to 31 December 2012” should be freed immediately.
UDD leader Tida Tawornseth told Thai Red Shirts (TRS) that,
Somyot’s case proves that liberal democratic ideals are non-existent in Thailand. It reaffirms our conviction that comprehensive political reform is necessary if this country can call itself democratic.
The UDD regards 112 as the most important of many anti-democratic laws that have been passed by coup-makers throughout Thailand’s turbulent political history. Although lèse majesté laws have existed in Thailand since the beginning of the 20th century, the maximum sentence was increased to 15 years by the military junta that had executed the coup of 1976.
It is impossible to ignore the intrinsic link between authoritarian regimes and the suppression of the freedom of speech. The UDD is committed to fighting the effects of all coups and achieving a sustainable democracy to Thailand. Somyot continues to be an incredible fighter in the struggle for a freer Thai society and we deeply regret his and his family’s suffering.