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Following the post-sentencing detention of human rights lawyer and activist Anon Nampa for royal defamation, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and the Move Forward Party have issued statements condemning Anon’s sentencing and raising concerns about freedom of expression.

Anon Nampa arriving at the Bangkok Remand Prison in a detention truck. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Anon was found guilty of royal defamation yesterday (26 September) and sentenced to 4 years in prison. The charge was filed against him over a speech he gave during a protest on 14 October 2020, in which the Criminal Court ruled that he defamed the King by saying that if the protest were to be dispersed, it should only be at the order of the King.

The Criminal Court ruled to forward his bail request to the Appeal Court and Anon will be detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison until a ruling is made.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership between the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), issued a statement condemning Anon’s conviction, sentencing, and arbitrary detention  and the “ongoing judicial harassment against him, which seems to be only aimed at punishing him for his legitimate human rights activities and the exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly.”

The Observatory calls on the Thai government to immediately and unconditionally released Anon and other detained human rights defenders, and end the judicial harassment directed against them. It also asks people to write to the Thai government and Thai diplomatic representatives in their respective countries to demand that the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Anon and other pro-democracy activists be guaranteed, that they be immediately released; that judicial harassment against them be ended, and that the government guarantee freedom of speech and peaceful assembly for activists, instead of targeting them with the royal defamation law.

Meanwhile, Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, a ranking member of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted in response to a Reuters report of Anon’s sentence that “calling for political reform is not a royal insult.”  He also noted that Thai authorities are using the royal defamation law to “restrict legitimate political expression and silence critics.”

The Move Forward Party (MFP) also issued a statement raising concerns about the sentencing of Anon, another person imprisoned for a political expression which rightly should not be seen as defamatory of or threatening to the King.

The party said that a succession of Thai governments have turned a blind eye to how problematic the royal defamation law is. They note that in recent years, it has frequently been used to silence dissenters and eliminate political opponents  who dare to question the role of the monarchy in politics. They also believe that the wider public is now aware that the royal defamation law is part of the political conflict facing the country.

MFP said it is still committed to amending the royal defamation law in a manner that would not damage the position of the monarch but rather strengthen the relationship between the monarchy and the people. It is also preparing an amnesty bill to pardon those prosecuted for political expression under laws that have been used against critics of the government, including the royal defamation law, the sedition law, and the Computer Crimes Act.

MFP calls on the government under Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin to ensure that those facing charges for political expression are not unlawfully indicted and that the law is not enforced in a way that violates the people’s freedom. It noted that the police and the public prosecutor often indict those charged with royal defamation or sedition, burdening the defendants with the cost of going to court, even though they have the authority to dismiss these cases.

“(We are acting) not for any individual, but to return the rule of law to Thailand and restore the people’s faith and trust in the justice system and every core institution in the country,” said the statement, “because an injustice against one person is an injustice against every citizen.”

Anon is among the 9 people detained pending trial or appeal on a royal defamation charge. The 8 others are Wut, Wayha Saenchonchanasuk, Teepagorn, Warunee, Wat, Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, Udom, and Sombat Thongyoi.

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