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Fifth anniversary of the imprisonment of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk

Saturday, 30 April 2016, was the fifth anniversary of the imprisonment of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a long-time labour rights activist and human rights defender. On 30 April 2011, Somyot was arrested on allegations of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code. He was held for six months of pre-trial detention and then hearings in his case were held between 12 November 2011 and 3 May 2012.

On 23 January 2013, the Criminal Court in Bangkok convicted Somyot Prueksakasemsuk of two violations and he was sentenced to ten years in prison in this case, as well as to one year in prison in relation to a prior case. The Appeal Court upheld the original decision on 19 September 2014. At present, Somyot is further appealing the verdict to the Supreme Court.

Since he was first arrested and placed behind bars, like the majority of detainees booked under Article 112, Somyot has been consistently denied bail, despite 16 bail applications being submitted. The Asian Human Rights Commission calls for the immediate release of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk and all others imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression.

Article 112 of the Criminal Code stipulates that, “Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” Although this measure has been part of the Criminal Code since its last revision in 1957, there has been an exponential increase in the number of complaints filed since the 19 September 2006 coup; this increase has been further multiplied following the 22 May 2014 coup. According to information collected by the Internet Dialogue on Legal Reform (iLaw), between the latest coup and the end of March 2016, there have been at least 62 new cases of alleged violation of Article 112 across the civilian and military courts.

Somyot Prueksakasemsuk is a long-time labour rights activist and human rights defender. From 2007 until his arrest, he was Editor of the Voice of Taksin magazine. In Somyot’s case, the Article 112 charges stem from his allegedly allowing two articles, with allegedly anti-monarchy content, to be published in the Voice of Taksinmagazine.

The prosecution argued that his work in printing, distributing and disseminating two issues of the magazine, which contained content deemed to violate Article 112, was itself an equal violation of the law. As in other lese majeste cases, the Court’s decision turned to the issue of intention.

In the abbreviated decision released on 23 January 2013, the Court offered this interpretation of Somyot’s guilt: “The two Khom Khwam Kit articles in Voice of Taksin did not refer to the names of individuals in the content. But were written with an intention to link incidents in the past. When these incidents in the past are linked, it is possible to identify that (the unnamed individual) refers to King Bhumipol Adulyadej. The content of the articles is insulting, defamatory, and threatening to the King. Publishing, distributing, and disseminating the articles are therefore with the intention to insult, defame, and threaten the king.”

The implication of the Criminal Court’s argument here is that anyone involved in the editing, publishing, disseminating, or distribution of material that is judged to have the intention to defame, insult, or threaten the monarchy, is criminally liable.

At the time of the initial decision, the Asian Human Rights Commission warned that it was an ominous warning to anyone involved in publishing, distributing or selling print or other media (AHRC-STM-027-2013). What made the conviction particularly important was that it demonstrated how the enforcement and interpretation of Article 112 was both uneven and highly political. Writers and publishers would not know that they have crossed the invisible line demarcated by the law until the police knock on their doors to take them away.

The decision heralded the creation of an atmosphere of fear and a new set of limitations on the free expression and circulation of ideas, particularly those deemed to be critical or dissident. More than threeyears after the decision, and nearly two years after the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order, this atmosphere of fear has been consolidated.

Five years – 1825 days -- have passed since Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was arrested. This is 1825 days too long. The Asian Human Rights Commission calls for the immediate release of Somyot Prueksakasemsukwhile his case is pending at the Supreme Court.

The AHRC further calls for the immediate release of all other individuals facing charges or convicted of violating Article 112 and related laws. Until this happens, the AHRC encourages all others concerned with human rights and justice in Thailand to closely follow arrests, prosecutions, and imprisonments in connection with Article 112.



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