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Freedom House Condemns Prison Sentence for Thai Activist Somyot

Washington, January 23, 2013 - Freedom House denounces the verdict delivered by Thailand’s criminal court sentencing long-time labor rights activist and former editor of magazineVoice of Taksin, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, to 11 years in prison and calls for his immediate release. The government must amend its laws to protect free expression in accordance with international human rights standards.

 

Photo Credit: Frontline Defenders
 
“It is deeply concerning that free speech advocates like Somyot are targeted, detained, and meted out sentences such as this,” said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, director of Southeast Asia programs at Freedom House. “The kinds of charges leveled against Somyot create a chilling atmosphere of fear and self-censorship that severely undermines Thailand’s self-professed commitment to democracy.”
 
Somyot has been in jail for almost 21 months, since April 2011, after being accused of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, otherwise known as the “lèse majesté law.”  On January 8, his request for bail was denied for the 12th time.
 
The government began targeting Somyot after the Voice of Taksin published two articles critical of the monarchy in February and March of 2010. More than a year later, Somyot participated in a Democracy Networks campaign, which intended to collect signatures for a petition calling for a parliamentary review of the lèse-majesté law. Shortly after the campaign was launched, prosecutors leveled charges against Somyot for articles published in the Voice of Taksin the year before.
 
Somyot suffers from health problems and has received inadequate medical care while in detention. His prolonged pre-trial detention resulted in the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention censuring the Thai government for violating its commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue, also condemned Thailand’s restrictions on free speech.
 
“As a signatory to the UDHR and ICCPR, Thailand has an international obligation to protect free expression including guaranteeing the rights of human rights activists to freely voice their opinions both on and offline without fear of reprisals and judicial harassment” Gunawardena-Vaughn said.
 
The government’s prosecution of speech critical of the monarchy stifles open debate and has contributed to Thailand’s depressed ratings in Freedom House’s annual surveys. The lèse majestélaw, along with the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, have been used in several high-profile prosecutions against free speech advocates and bloggers in recent years.
 
Thailand is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2013 and Freedom of the Press 2012, and Not Free in Freedom of the Net 2012.
 

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