Editor of a Red Shirt Magazine Nabbed on Lèse Majesté Charge

30 April 2011: Mr. Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, Founding Editor of “Voice of Taksin”, a magazine affiliated with the Red Shirts Movement, was arrested by the police at the Immigration checkpoint of the Thailand-Cambodia town today apparently on a charge related to lèse majesté or defamation of the monarch. His attorney dubbed this arrest a political ploy to suppress the opposition voices when the general elections are forthcoming.

Launched since 2009, the Voice of Taksin has become a mouthpiece for the Red Shirts movement whose many members are known to have much admiration for the deposed Prime Minister. Apart from being a prominent activist with the pro-democratic movement, Mr. Somyot is known as a champion of labour rights, as he has previously worked in numerous workers’ organizations.  

Given the timing of the arrest and its proximity to the elections, Mr. Suwit Thongnuan, Mr. Somyot’s attorney, claimed this arrest is an attempt by the powers that be to silence the Red Shirts supporters who will likely vote for the Phue Thai Party.

This week also saw the sweeping shutdown of at least 13 community radio stations run by the Red Shirts supporters in Bangkok and metropolitan. Invoking the Court’s search warrants, the police forces have raided the radio stations and seized the broadcasting equipment as well as arrested several people who run the stations. According to Mr. Suthep Thuaksuban, Deputy Prime Minister in charge of internal security, the raids were an attempt to suppress any operation deemed a threat to the nation’s security. But critics said, they are simply a dirty ploy to ensure a solid win of the coalition party, the Democrats, during the forthcoming elections.

According to Mr. Suwit Thongnuan, the charge against his client normally requires a bail in a range of three hundreds thousands baht. Mr. Somyot has proposed the properties worth 1.6 million baht, but Mr. Tharit Phengdit, DSI’s Director General, opposed the temporary release claiming the alleged offender had failed to turn up after a summons was issued to him and he was nabbed while trying to go abroad. It is feared that Mr. Somyot might tamper with the evidence, claimed the Director General. Mr. Somyot’s attorney finds the reasons ridiculous since after the arrest was issued on 12 February 2011, his client has organized a series of group tour abroad and has not been stopped. But when it is approaching elections, DSI decided to have him held up. Prior to the arrest, Mr. Somyot was neither aware of the summons nor the arrest warrant.    

The lese majeste charge this time stems from the publishing of an article by “Chit Pohonchan” in two issues of “Voice of Taksin” in February and March 2010. Reportedly, the charge was initiated by the then Center for Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES) and was transferred to Department of Special Investigation (DSI). According to the officials, in deciding whether any article is an offense of lèse majesté or not, they have asked some “person of ordinary prudence” to read it first. And if the “person of ordinary prudence” deems the articles an offence, then legal action shall be commenced. 

In the middle of 30 April’s night, Mr. Somyot was transferred and held in custody at the Crime Suppression Division bracing hundreds of the Red Shirts supporters who who will flock to visit and give moral support to Mr. Somyot. According to the DSI’s Director General, at 10.00 am on Monday 2 May 2011, Mr. Somyot shall be brought for arraignment at the Criminal Court. He declined to give any detail of the case claiming the sensitivity of such an offence. 

Translated by Pipob Udomittipong