Writers’ association demands release of theatre activists jailed for lèse majesté

An international writers’ association has demanded the unconditional release of youth activists imprisoned under the lèse majesté law for staging a play called the ‘Wolf Bride’.

Pen International, an international association promoting freedom of expression, will mark the 34th anniversary of the Day of the Imprisoned Writer this coming Sunday, 15 November 2015, by campaigning on behalf of writers worldwide who have suffered persecution.

Among 5 cases from around the world, Pen International is this year campaigning for the release of Pornthip M., 26, and Patiwat S., 23, activists who were sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law.

The two were convicted under Article 112 for participating in a stage play about a fictional monarch, the ‘Wolf Bride’ (Jao Sao Ma Pa), which was staged at Thammasat University in October 2013 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 14 October 1973 popular uprising.

The Criminal Court on 23 February 2015 sentenced the two activists to five years imprisonment. However, since the two pleaded guilty the court halved the sentences to two years and a half.

The court ruled not to suspend the jail term, saying that although the defendants have clean backgrounds, their crime of “co-organizing a play which falsely claimed, insulted, and threatened the monarchy to a large audience” is severe.

Pen International asks its members to send appeals to the Thai Prime Miniser, Foreign Minister and embassies around the world:

  • Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of students Patiwat S. and Pornthip M., as they are held for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in contravention of Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party;
  • Reiterating serious concern for the safety of writers, academics and activists in Thailand, who are at risk of attack and imprisonment solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions;
  • Urging the authorities to amend the Criminal Code, in particular the lèse majesté law, to ensure that it meets Thailand’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression.

Pen International points out that Thailand’s criminal defamation and lèse majesté laws are not compatible with international standards of freedom of expressions guaranteed under the provisions of the ICCPR and should be amended.

In 2011, Frank La Rue, the then UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, called on Thailand to reform its lèse majesté law.

He said “The threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifles important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

According to Article 112 of the Thai criminal code, any person who ‘defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-Apparent or the Regent’ will be punished with up to 15 years in prison. Since the military seized power in May 2014 through a coup, the number of trials and detentions related to lèse majesté offences has significantly increased in order to silence dissent.

The period of military rule after the 2014 coup d’état has seen more people prosecuted under the lèse majesté law than any other period in Thai history. Under the current regime, offences under Article 112 committed after the 2014 coup are being tried by the military courts, which allow no appeal.

On 7 August 2015, the Bangkok Military Court set a new record sentencing Pongsak S. to 60 years imprisonment for offences under the lèse majesté law and Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act (importing illegal content into a computer system). The court gave a 10-year prison term for each of six lèse majesté counts. Since the suspect pleaded guilty as charged, the court halved the sentence to 30 years in jail.

Pongsak used Facebook under the name “Sam Parr” to distribute messages and images defaming the monarchy, which he copied from other sources. At a press conference in January 2015, he pleaded guilty to all charges and said he did so because he was prompted by some Facebook friends. He also said that he went to anti-establishment red-shirt demonstrations.

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