For the first time in several years, Amnesty International acknowledged yesterday that there was at least one prisoner of conscience in Thailand. This was declared in the agency's recently released 2011 report on human rights, which details how the freedom of expression is being curbed through the use of the emergency decree, the lese majeste law and the Computer Crime Act.
Wipas Raksakul, a businessman who was arrested last April for allegedly violating the lese majeste law by forwarding a message on Facebook, has been classified by Amnesty International as a "prisoner of conscience".
A reliable source, who personally knows the Rayong-based businessman, told The Nation that Wipas is out on bail but "does not want to make news for fear that his family might be affected". This information could not be independently confirmed as of press time.
Amnesty International, which has been championing human rights since it was founded in 1961, defines prisoners of conscience as those "who have been jailed because of their political, religious or other conscientiously-held beliefs, ethnic origin, sex, colour, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth, sexual orientation or other status".
The actual number of those detained under the lese majeste law has not been made public and is not easily obtainable, but Khon Kaen-based expert David Streckfuss claims that the figure might be in the hundreds.
Meanwhile, key members of the Thai chapter of Amnesty International are unsure if Wipas is the first to be classified as a prisoner of conscience since the end of the communist insurgency three decades ago.
Alec Bamford, an adviser to the Thai arm of the agency who spoke at the symposium held at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand to launch the annual report, admitted that he did not know why others detained under the lese majeste law were not classified as prisoners of conscience.
"It's a question I ask Amnesty [International] as well," Bamford said, adding that some members of the agency believe that actions against the lese majeste law might be "counterproductive". However, he did not elaborate.
Mentioned in the report, but not classified as prisoner of conscience, was Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of the online newspaper prachatai.com. Chiranuch, who is out on bail after being arrested under the Computer Crime Act last year for comments posted on the prachatai.com webboard that were deemed offensive to the monarchy, also spoke at the symposium.
"There are many questions regarding lese majeste, but people don't dare question it in public," she told the audience.
She said the public was being forced to keep its mouth shut due to fear of the "big brother" and it was being inundated with "monopolistic and self-righteous messages".
"Every law is made by humans, so humans should be able to question it," she concluded.