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UN experts alarmed by rise in use of lèse majesté law in Thailand

UN human rights experts today expressed grave concerns over Thailand’s increasingly severe use of lèse-majesté laws to curtail criticism of the monarchy, and said they were alarmed that a woman had been sentenced to over 43 years in prison for insulting the royal family.

Protesters at a rally to call for the repeal of Section 112 marching through Ratchadamneon Road

On 19 January, Anchan, a 60-year-old former civil servant, was handed what is believed to be the country’s harshest sentence under lèse-majesté provisions, for reportedly having posted audio clips that were critical of the monarchy on her Facebook page between 2014 and 2015. Her case was first raised by the UN independent experts in 2016. She was initially tried in a military court and sentenced to 87 years in prison. Her sentence was halved when she confessed to the alleged violations after her case had been transferred to a civilian court in mid-2019. The decision is being appealed.

“We urge the appeal court to reconsider the case of Anchan in line with international human rights standards and set aside the harsh sentence.

“We have repeatedly emphasized that lèse-majesté laws have no place in a democratic country,” said the UN experts. “Their increasingly harsh application has had the effect of chilling freedom of expression and further restricting civic space and the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms in Thailand.”

According to the experts, as pro-democracy activists have largely moved towards online advocacy in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the authorities have begun to enforce lèse-majesté provisions more strictly and have even charged minors with these severe charges for exercising their freedom of expression.

“We are profoundly disturbed by the reported rise in the number of lèse-majesté prosecutions since late 2020 and the harsher prison sentences,” they said.

While underlining their constructive ongoing dialogue with the Government on this matter, the experts recalled that under international human rights law, public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority, such as heads of State, are legitimately subject to criticism. “The fact that some forms of expression may be considered offensive or shocking to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of such severe penalties,” they said.

“We call on the authorities to revise and repeal the lèse-majesté laws, to drop charges against all those who are currently facing criminal prosecution and release those who have been imprisoned under for the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly,” the experts said.

* The experts: Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, MsLeigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo, Mr. Mumba Malila, Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association.

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