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Group helping lese majeste detainees upset with media, govt

Nearly half a year ago, a group of family members affected by the controversial lese majeste law decided to form The Network of Family Members and Peoples Affected by Article 112.

This, they believed, was necessary as they felt not enough is being done to guarantee justice for those detained under the law while censorship and the curbs to freedom of expression are not adequately raised and discussed in society.

When the network launched itself, only Thailand's two-English language newspapers paid interest while the Thai-language papers ignored their formation. It is symptomatic of how the media and society warily treat the issue of lese majeste law, said 45-year-old Sukanya Prueksakasemsuk, wife of lese majeste detainee Somyos Prueksakemsuk.

"There are more foreigners who pay attention to the formation of our network," said the mild-speaking Sukanya, a private company employee, who had to learn about political activism from scratch after the group was formed to partly help her husband who has been behind bars for more than a year without bail. Sukanya cited a German radio journalist interviewing the group and a journalist from France. "Hardly any Thai media," she added.

That hasn't stop the group, with 18 members, to meet once a month and hold activities highlighting what they believe to be infringement of basic legal rights such as the denial of bail to most lese majeste detainees, and more.

One new member of the group knows this well; Surapak Phuchaisaeng was released from prison just at the end of last month after the court threw out his lese majeste case due to insufficient evidence. Surapak, 40, a computer programmer, was denied bail eight times while fighting the case.

He said that while he was in prison, the network visited him and other prisoners of conscience twice or three times a week, offering food and bringing news about the outside world as well as moral support that sustained him and others. The support the network proved invaluable, he said.

"I decided to join the network myself [after being released from jail] because we share the same predicament," Surapak, who is still trying to recover from life in jail, told The Nation on the phone from Buengkarn province. Surapak criticised the recent decision by the Pheu Thai-dominated Parliament to refuse to debate a proposed amendment of the law as an act of "cowardice" and said people will probably have to wait for a new parliament.

"What kind of system does this country have if Parliament dare not discuss laws pertaining to the monarchy institution?" asked Surapak, adding that in the future the network will seek

to identify political parties that will openly support the amendment of the law, which now

carries a maximum penalty of 15 years' imprisonment.

Sukanya said even if there's very little or no hope to see the law amended, she and others hope that the seven prisoners of conscience, including her husband, will have the right to get bail. She visited her husband once a week and clung to the hope that Somyos will be found not guilty when the court will hand the verdict on December 19, so she can celebrate the New Year with him.