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Update

The Current State of Freedom of Information and Expression in Thailand

Thailand’s lèse-majesté law has been noted as the harshest in the world, mandating jail time of three to five years for crimes of defamation or insult against the monarchy.[1]  Lèse-majesté laws are those, which criminalize acts against the sovereign. Recently in Thailand, more citizens are being convicted under the lèse-majesté law as a result of the military coup.

Martial law was imposed in Thailand after the National Council for Peace and Order (“NCPO”) seized the country in May of 2014.[2] The NCPO has promulgated an interim Constitution and has appointed a Prime Minister, Council of Ministers, and members of both the National Legislative Assembly and the National Reform Council.[3] As a result of the seizure, the courts have seen an increased number of convictions for lèse-majesté crimes. Individuals have been arrested for political charges, peaceful protests, and defamation of the King or other monarchy.[4] Notably, approximately 36 citizens have been prosecuted under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, Thailand’s lèse-majesté law.[5] Article 112 of the Criminal Code specifically states, “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne or the Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.”[6] Not only does this law apply to the defamation of the current monarchy, but can also apply to deceased monarchy.[7] Further, individuals convicted in the military courts are barred from appealing the decision to a higher tribunal.[8]

The NCPO will not release the number of civilians being prosecuted in military courts across the country.[9] Further, the NCPO will not release the number of cases being processed by the military courts.[10] Therefore, information on the court decisions for these cases are not available to the public, and the amount of citizens prosecuted under this law can only be approximated.

There are numerous examples of where the military court has convicted individuals for crimes of insult. For example, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk was sentenced to 10 years in prison for insulting the king.[11] Somyot was not the author of the articles cited for defaming the King, but was held responsible as the editor of the magazine in which the articles were published.[12] Further, the articles never specifically mentioned the King but the court found they indirectly implicated the King.[13] This cases stands out because Somyot challenged the conviction stating that this type of lèse-majesté law which makes it a crime to defame, insult, or threaten the king or other members of the monarchy violates the right of freedom of expression.[14] The constitutional court of Thailand rejected this argument, stating that the King deserves special protection as the leader of the nation.[15]

In October of 2014, two Thai students pled guilty to insulting the King.[16] The insult they committed against the King concerned acting in a play about a fictitious King.[17] The allegedly defamatory content of the play entitled Wolf King, was not released.[18] The students were recently sentenced to two and a half years each for their crime of insult.[19] In November of 2014, Kathawut Boonpitak was sentenced to five years in prison by a military court for defamation of the monarchy.[20] The defamation charge stemmed from Kathawut’s statements on his radio show.[21] Akkaradet Eiamsuwan, a Thai student, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in November for a Facebook message that supposedly defamed the King.[22]

The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Center is advocating for the overturn of the many convictions under Article 112 of the Criminal Code as violations of the right to freedom of expression. This law, which criminalizes speech that insults or defames the monarchy, is unnecessarily over broad and criminalizes potentially protected speech. Even speech that is not directly aimed at the monarchy but which the court declares implicitly insults the King can be actionable. Further, by removing the right to appeal the courts of Thailand are removing avenues of relief that should be provided by the judicial system.

[1] Thai Student Sentenced to 2 Years in Prison for Defaming King on Facebook, Associated Press (November 4, 2014), available at: http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/11/04/thai-student-sentenced-to-2-years-in-prison-for-defaming-king-on-facebook/.

[2] Martial Law and the Military Court: Civil and Political Rights in Thailand (22 May 2014-15 January 2015), Thai Lawyers for Human Rights at 1.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Thailand: Six People Now in Jail Under Lese-Majeste Laws, available at: https://www.fidh.org/International-Federation-for-Human-Rights/asia/thailand/15291-thailand-six-people-now-in-jail-under-lese-majeste-laws.

[7] Natchakit, Political Prisoners in Thailand, available at: https://thaipoliticalprisoners.wordpress.com/decidedcases/natchakit-%E0%B8%93%E0%B8%B1%E0%B8%90%E0%B8%81%E0%B8%B4%E0%B8%95%E0%B8%95%E0%B8%B4%E0%B9%8C-%E0%B8%A1%E0%B8%A4%E0%B8%84%E0%B8%B4%E0%B8%99%E0%B8%97%E0%B8%A3%E0%B9%8C/.

[8] Military Court Jails Thai Web Radio Host for Insulting King, Aljazeera America, available at: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/11/18/thai-web-radio-hostjailedforinsultingmonarch.html.

[9] Martial Law and the Military Court: Civil and Political Rights in Thailand (22 May 2014-15 January 2015), Thai Lawyers for Human Rights at 2.

[10] Id. at 8.

[11] Thomas Fuller, Thai Court Gives 10-Year Sentence for Insult to King, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/24/world/asia/thai-court-gives-10-year-sentence-for-insult-to-king.html?_r=1 (January 23, 2013).

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Charlie Campbell, The Draconian Legal Weapon Being Used to Silence Thai Dissent, available at: http://time.com/3650981/thailand-lese-majeste-article-112/ (Dec. 31, 2014).

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Thai Pair Jailed for Insulting Monarchy in Student Play, BBC News (23 February 2015), available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-31581219.

[20] Military Court Jails Thai Web Radio Host for Insulting King, Aljazeera America, available at: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/11/18/thai-web-radio-hostjailedforinsultingmonarch.html.

[21] Id.

[22] Thai Student Sentenced to 2 Years in Prison for Defaming King on Facebook, Associated Press (November 4, 2014), available at: http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/11/04/thai-student-sentenced-to-2-years-in-prison-for-defaming-king-on-facebook/.

Authors

Ashley Geary

Legal Researcher, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression

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