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Detained newspaper editor facing trial on lèse-majesté charges

Reporters Without Borders condemns the continuing detention of the journalist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, who was held for more than the 84 days allowed under the criminal code before being formally charged on 26 July on two lèse-majesté counts. No date has been set for his trial, at which he could get a combined sentence of up to 30 years in prison.

Somyot used to edit Voice of Thaksin, a newspaper that was banned in 2010, and its successor Red Power. Both supported former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

“We condemn the continual arbitrary use of the lèse-majesté laws,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The authorities must drop the charges against Somyot and free him at once. We hope that new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s recent statement that the lèse-majesté laws must not be used ‘inappropriately’ will have a rapid effect. We urge the new government to make significant amendments to these laws, the arbitrary use of which has led to serious violations of freedom of expression and increasing censorship.”

Somyot was arrested on 30 April after refusing to identify the person who wrote two articles for Voice of Thaksin under the pen-name of Jit Polachan which allegedly defamed King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Somyot’s lawyer, Suwit Thongnual, told Agence France-Presse on 29 July that Somyot did not know the real name of the articles’ author.

The spring 2010 clashes between security forces and pro-Thaksin demonstrators, in which two journalists were killed and five were injured, has significantly exacerbated the situation of the media, journalists and bloggers. One effect was the government’s decision on 15 June 2010 to create an agency specialized in combating online attacks on the monarchy, the Bureau of Prevention and Eradication of Computer Crime.

Since then, excessive use has been made of article 112 of the criminal code, under which defamatory, insulting or threatening comments about “the king, queen, crown prince or regent” are punishable by three to 15 years in prison.

The Thai constitution guarantees freedom of expression but an iLaw Project report tallied 31 lèse-majesté cases since 2007, 11 of them involving the Computer Crimes Act. The conviction rate in lèse-majesté prosecutions is around 95 per cent.

The state of emergency that was decreed on 7 April 2010 and lifted on 22 December 2010 was replaced by an Internal Security Act that gives the government and armed forces the power to censor without referring to the courts. We call for its swift repeal.

Reporters Without Borders hopes that the new government will take the country on a new course that includes more respect for freedom of expression.

Thailand is listed as country “under surveillance” in the Reporters Without Borders report on “Enemies of the Internet” and is ranked 153rd out of 178 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.


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