UN expert calls for end to lèse-majesté prosecutions amid more arbitrary detentions

The Thai government should end all lèse-majesté prosecutions and amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code (lèse-majesté) to bring it in line with international law, a United Nations (UN) expert said on 6 October 2017.

On 6 October 2017, during a public lecture at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok, David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said lèse-majesté prosecutions in Thailand were “inconsistent with international law and should be stopped.” Mr. Kaye also reiterated that Article 112 “should be repealed.”

The Special Rapporteur’s call was made on the heels of the latest opinions issued by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) regarding the cases of two lèse-majesté detainees. On 24 August 2017, the WGAD declared the detention of Sasiphimon Patomwongfangam and Thiansutham Suthijitseranee as “arbitrary.”

Sasiphimon, a 30-year-old single mother of two, was sentenced by the Chiang Mai Military Court to 28 years in prison on seven counts of lèse-majesté on 7 August 2015. She is currently imprisoned in the Women’s Correctional Institute in Chiang Mai.

Thiansutham, a 60-year-old businessman, was sentenced by the Bangkok Military Court to 25 years in prison on five counts of lèse-majesté on 31 March 2015. He remains incarcerated in Bangkok’s Klong Prem Prison.

The WGAD found that the deprivation of liberty of Sasiphimon and Thiansutham resulted from the exercise of their right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The WGAD also opined that the military trials of Sasiphimon and Thiansutham resulted in violations of their right to a fair trial and due process (guaranteed by Article 14 of the ICCPR), which were “grave enough” to give their deprivation of liberty “an arbitrary character.”

In the case of Thiansutham, the WGAD also found that his detention was arbitrary because his initial arrest and incommunicado detention lacked any legal basis, in violation of Article 9 of the UDHR and Article 9(1) of the ICCPR. Police and military personnel arrested Thiansutham on 18 December 2014 without producing an arrest warrant.

The WGAD urged the Thai authorities to immediately release Sasiphimon and Thiansutham and award them compensation for the arbitrary detention to which they have been subjected. The WGAD also urged the Thai government to bring Article 112 of the Criminal Code into conformity with Thailand’s commitments under international human rights law.

With the cases of Sasiphimon and Thiansutham, there are now six lèse-majesté detainees whose deprivation of liberty has been declared as arbitrary by the WGAD. In addition to Sasiphimon and Thiansutham, former tour guide Pongsak Sriboonpeng and former magazine editor Somyot Phrueksakasemsuk remain behind bars. Student activists Patiwat Saraiyaem (aka Bank) and Pornthip Munkong (aka Golf) were released under a royal amnesty on 12 and 27 August 2016, respectively.

In its last three opinions concerning lèse-majesté detainees, the WGAD expressed its “grave concern” over the pattern of arbitrary detention involving Article 112. The WGAD again recalled that “under certain circumstances, widespread or systematic imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of the rules of international law, may constitute crimes against humanity.”

“Practical steps towards the amendment of Article 112 of the Criminal Code are a necessary measure to restore Thailand’s respect of its international human rights obligations concerning freedom of expression. The government should seek assistance from international human rights bodies to begin the process of amending Article 112.” Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President

Since the 22 May 2014 coup, at least 117 people have been arrested for violating Article 112. Fifty-two of them have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 35 years. To date, at least 60 individuals are either detained awaiting trial or imprisoned for lèse-majesté violations. At the time of the military takeover, there were six individuals behind bars on lèse-majesté charges.
 
UN human rights monitoring bodies, including the Human Rights Committee (CCPR), and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), have called for the amendment of Article 112 to bring it into conformity with Thailand’s international obligations. On 11 May 2016, during its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Thailand received seven recommendations that called for the repeal or amendment of Article 112 and an end of its abuse to limit freedom of expression.

FIDH and its Thai member organizations Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) urge the Thai government to end the abuse of lèse-majesté and immediately and unconditionally release those detained or imprisoned under Article 112 for the mere exercise of their fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression.

David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (file photo)

 

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