UN 'appalled' by Thailand's disproportionate lèse-majesté sentences

11 August 2015
 
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location:       Geneva
Subjects:       Thailand / lèse-majesté
 
We are appalled by the shockingly disproportionate prison terms handed down over the past few months in lèse-majesté cases in Thailand. On 7 August 2015, the Bangkok Military Court sentenced travel agent Phongsak Sribunpeng to 30 years in prison for violating Section 112 of the Criminal Code (also known as the lèse-majesté law). Sribunpeng was convicted for posting six comments that were critical of members of the Royal Family on Facebook. The sentence was initially 60 years – 10 years for each Facebook posts – but this was reduced due to his guilty plea. On the same day, the Chiang Mai Military Court handed a 28-year prison term to Sasiwimol Patomwongfa-ngarm, a hotel staff, for posting seven comments on Facebook critical of the monarchy. The sentence was reduced from 56 years because of her guilty plea. Another particularly harsh sentence was handed down in March 2015, when the Bangkok Military Court convicted Thiansutham Suttijitseranee to 25 years in prison for posting five comments criticizing the monarchy on Facebook.
 
These are the heaviest sentences we have recorded since 2006, when we began documenting cases of individuals prosecuted for lèse-majesté offences fo exercising the right to freedom of expression.
 
And there has been a sharp increase in the number of such cases. Since the May 2014 military coup, at least 40 individuals have either been convicted or remain in pre-trial detention for lèse-majesté offences, both under Section 112 and under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act. In early May 2014, prior to the coup, there were five people in prison for lèse-majesté related convictions. .
 
Also among those convicted in recent months are people with psycho-social disabilities. On 6 August, the Chiang Rai military court sentenced Samak Pantae to five years in prison for destroying a portrait of the King while he was intoxicated. Pantae has been diagnosed with psychosis by Chiang Rai Hospital and has been taking medication to battle visual and auditory hallucinations. On 25 June, the Bangkok Criminal Court sentenced Tanet Nontakoat to three years and four months in prison for sending URLs which contained alleged lèse-majesté content to a website administrator. Nontakoat is reportedly suffering from schizophrenia.
 
We are also alarmed at the spike in harsh prison terms delivered in such cases by the military courts, which themselves fail to meet international human rights standards, including the right to a fair trial. Observers have been barred from entry and in many instances there is no option for appeal. International law requires that trials of civilians by military courts should be exceptional, and military trials must afford all due process
guarantees provided for under international human rights law.
 
We call for the immediate release of all those who have been jailed or held in prolonged pre-trial detention for the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression. We also urge the military government to amend the vague and broad lèse-majesté law to bring it in line with international human rights standards. Until the law is amended, such laws should not be used arbitrarily to curb debate on critical issues of public interest, even
when it involves criticism of heads of State or Government.