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Record-breaking lèse majesté sentence an assault on freedom of expression, says AI regional director

The record-breaking sentence delivered to Anchan, 63, who was found guilty of lèse majesté, is a "serious assault" on freedom of expression and shows how Section 112 is inconsistent with international human rights law, says Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Regional Director.

Anchan (Photo from iLaw)

Responding to the record prison sentence handed to Anchan P. by a Thai court today after conviction for lèse majesté and computer-related crimes, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, Yamini Mishra, said:

“This shocking case is yet another serious assault on Thailand’s vanishing space for freedom of expression. 

“The fast-rising number of individuals facing charges and being detained under the lèse majesté law demonstrates the Thai authorities’ relentless drive to silence dissent. Today’s extreme sentence is a case in point, and shows why this law is inconsistent with international human rights law.

“Defamation should never incur a criminal conviction in the first place, let alone an extremely long jail sentence like today’s.

“Anchan has already faced appalling treatment since being arrested in 2015, including pre-trial detention for years, some of which incommunicado.

“The manner of her sentencing is also chilling. The way authorities have evidently sought to maximize the punishments by multiplying criminal charges sends a clear message of deterrence to Thailand’s 50 million internet users.

“The Thai authorities must halt their crackdown on peaceful dissent. The government must repeal or significantly revise legislation which gags freedom of expression both on- and offline, such as the lèse majesté offence and the Computer Crime Act used in today’s verdict.” 

Background

Anchan P., a food seller and former civil servant, faced 29 counts of “insulting the monarchy”, or lèse majesté, under Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code and provisions of the Computer Crime Act. She was arrested in January 2015 and detained for nearly four years until November 2018, when she was released on bail. 

Anchan was initially detained incommunicado in a military camp for five days before her transfer to a detention facility and repeatedly denied bail. 

The court convicted Anchan for allegedly sharing and uploading clips on social media of an online talk show alleged to have made defamatory comments about the monarchy.

 

Anchan pleaded guilty to the charges and received a consecutive three-year sentence for each of the 29 lèse majesté offences, or 87 years - the harshest conviction under Article 112 to date. The sentence was reduced by half to 43 and a half years owing to Anchan’s guilty plea. Article 112 of the Criminal Code carries between three and 15 years’ imprisonment per violation.

Amid mounting peaceful protests throughout 2020, the Thai authorities resumed the use of lèse majesté charges in November of that year, having brought no new charges under the law since March 2018. 

More than 220 people, including children, have faced criminal charges for their alleged involvement in peaceful protests throughout 2020.  Of those, dozens have been charged with sedition and lèse majesté.

Thailand is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which protects the right to freedom of expression under Article 19. The UN Human Rights Committee, the treaty body responsible for interpreting the ICCPR, has stated that “imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty” for defamation-related offences such as lèse majesté.

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