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Lese majeste cases creating climate of fear, critics say

The recent spate of lese majeste charges against opponents of the government - including academics, journalists and red-shirt leaders - is creating a climate of fear that has further politicised the monarchy, critics say.

"Apart from curtailing freedom, it has created a climate of fear," Mahidol University lecturer on human rights Sriprapha Petchmeesri said. "This is not good for a society which says it is democratising."

Sriprapha said room for freedom of expression in Thailand has been eroded gradually.

Her remarks came after she learnt yesterday that Thammasat University historian Somsak Jiamteerasakul had finally been charged with lese majeste by the Thai Army.

Somsak will report to Nang Lerng police station at 10am tomorrow to hear the charges against him. He is a well-known critic of the lese majeste law and a vocal critic of the monarchy.

Sriprapha said Somsak has been critical for many years so the question was why had he been charged at this time.

"We should make the [monarchy] issue something that can be discussed openly. Anything that is part of society ought to be able to be |discussed."

Others like human rights lawyer Somchai Hom-laor said lese majeste law had been increasingly used as a tool to suppress political opponents.

"The charges have become political. This negatively impacts the monarchy itself," said Somchai, who added that a reform of lese majeste law was needed. He lamented that |he recently issued a statement critical of the increasing use of lese majeste charges, but none of the mainstream media cared to publish even part of it.

Vasant Panich, a former national human rights commissioner and a newly appointed director of Khon Kaen University's Centre for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, told The Nation the trend was that more charges could be expected in the near future.

"In cases of people like Somsak and [Red Power editor] Somyos [Prueksaka-semsuk], the law was used in order to stop their [political] activities," he said. Somyos has been detained since the beginning of this month and denied bail.

Khon Kaen-based scholar David Streckfuss, a leading authority of lese majeste law in Thailand, said the public had no information on how many people were now incarcerated under lese majeste charges as the authorities did not release details on all cases. He said the number could be more than a hundred or in the hundreds.



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