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Thailand: Release long-time lèse-majesté detainee Siraphop Kornaroot, UN body urges

Bangkok, Paris, 7 June 2019: Thai authorities must immediately release lèse-majesté detainee Siraphop Kornaroot, in accordance with a ruling made recently by a United Nations (UN) body, FIDH and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) urged today.

Siraphop Kornaroot (right)
(Source: TLHR)

Siraphop, 55, has been detained for almost five years on charges under Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code - one of the world’s toughest lèse-majesté laws - and Article 14 of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act. His trial before the Bangkok Military Court has been ongoing since 24 September 2014 and all 20 previous court hearings were held behind closed doors. The next hearing will take place on 10 June 2019. His bail petition having been repeatedly denied, Siraphop is currently incarcerated at the Bangkok Remand Prison and, if convicted, he could face a sentence of up to 45 years.

“The prolonged arbitrary detention and military trial of Siraphop Kornaroot are testaments to the serious human rights violations committed during five years of military rule in Thailand. The new elected government must break the junta’s legacy of abuses, immediately release all lèse-majesté detainees, and end military trials of civilians,” said FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard.

On 24 April 2019, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) declared Siraphop’s detention arbitrary, and called on the Thai government to immediately release him and accord him compensation and other reparations. In its opinion, the WGAD declared Siraphop’s detention arbitrary because it contravened Articles 10, 11, and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Articles 14 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party. The referenced provisions of the UDHR and ICCPR guarantee the fundamental right to liberty, the right to a fair trial, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The WGAD found that Siraphop was detained under legislation (i.e. Article 112) that “expressly violates international human rights law,” and that there was “no legal basis for his detention.” It also found that Siraphop’s deprivation of liberty resulted from his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Siraphop was arrested on 1 July 2014 in Bangkok in connection with three posts he had made online between November 2009 and January 2014. Police deemed these posts (which included a poem and two caricatures) to be offensive to the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died on 13 October 2016.

With regard to the violations of Siraphop’s right to a fair trial, the WGAD said that Siraphop’s detention for almost five years without a court’s final determination on his matter was “unacceptably long” and did not meet international standards. As a result, the WGAD opined that Siraphop’s right to be tried within a reasonable time and without undue delay under Articles 9(3) and 14(3)(c) of the ICCPR was being violated.

The UN body also reasserted its previous stance that Thai military courts “cannot be considered competent, independent or impartial” as required under Article 10 of the UDHR and Article 14(1) of the ICCPR. The WGAD also said that the Bangkok Military Court’s “continuous and systematic refusal” to grant Siraphop bail posed “a significant obstacle” to the exercise of his basic rights, including the fundamental right to liberty and the right to a fair trial. Since July 2014, the Bangkok Military Court has rejected Siraphop’s bail application seven times. The WGAD concluded that the Bangkok Military Court’s actions did not suggest that it would treat Siraphop’s case “in an impartial manner.”

“The case of Siraphop is a textbook example of the serious human rights violations stemming from the military junta’s abuse of Article 112. Thai authorities must heed the UN’s ruling, immediately free Siraphop, and end his military trial,” said TLHR Head Yaowalak Anuphan.

In the opinion, the WGAD reiterated its view that all sentences issued by military courts in relation to civilians should be reviewed by a civil court, even if they have not been appealed. On 12 September 2016, the ruling military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), issued Head of NCPO Order 55/2016, which ended the practice of trying civilians in military courts. However, the order applies only to alleged offenses committed from 12 September 2016 and excludes past cases or ongoing trials in military courts. Since the 22 May 2014 coup d’état, military courts have sentenced 27 lèse-majesté defendants to lengthy prison terms.

The WGAD also called on the Thai government to bring Article 112 of the Criminal Code and Articles 14(3) and 14(5) of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act into conformity with Thailand’s commitments under international human rights law.

Siraphop is the eighth lèse-majesté detainee whose deprivation of liberty has been found to be “arbitrary” by the WGAD, since August 2012. Since the coup, at least 127 people have been arrested for violating Article 112. Fifty-seven of them have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 35 years.