Thailand: UN committee slams abuse of lèse-majesté laws

Paris, 23 June 2015: Thailand should amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code (lèse-majesté), the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) said in its concluding observations released yesterday after its review of Thailand’s report on 4-5 June in Geneva.
 
The CESCR expressed concern over the “adverse effect of the excessive interpretation” of lèse-majesté on the enjoyment of the right of everyone to take part in cultural life. The committee recommended that Article 112 be amended with a view to ensure “clarity and unambiguity regarding the prohibited acts and that any sanctions are strictly proportionate to the harm caused.”[1]
 
The CESCR issued its recommendations amid ongoing restrictions on public debates related to lèse-majesté. On 15 June, Thailand’s military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), ordered the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) to cancel a panel discussion on Article 112 scheduled for 17 June in Bangkok. The order was issued a few days after the FCCT rejected a police request to cancel the event. The police claimed the panel discussion “would sow disunity in Thai society and encourage people to break the law and stir up unrest.”
 
“The abuse of Article 112 has become an international embarrassment for Thailand and it is damaging the image of the Thai monarchy,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. “It’s time for Thailand to heed the numerous recommendations made by various UN human rights bodies to amend its lèse-majesté legislation,” he urged.
 
On the occasion of the CESCR’s review of Thailand’s report, FIDH released Dark Ages - Violations of cultural rights under Thailand’s lèse-majesté law. The report documents how Thailand’s overzealous enforcement of Article 112 has resulted in the country’s failure to comply with its obligation to respect and protect the right of everyone to participate in cultural life. Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) guarantees this right.
 
Article 112 imposes jail terms for those who defame, insult, or threaten the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne, or the Regent. Persons found guilty of violating Article 112 face prison terms of three to 15 years for each count. Thailand’s abuse of Article 112 has led to the imprisonment of several artists and writers. Thirteen of the 16 post-2014 coup lèse-majesté cases resulting in prison sentences presented elements related to the right to freedom of expression and to take part in cultural life. Thailand has also routinely banned books and other publications that provide a critical perspective on the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and other members of the royal family. The atmosphere of fear created by these measures has resulted in widespread self-censorship. In addition, authorities have conducted a relentless and wide-ranging campaign to censor online content that is considered offensive to the monarchy.