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UN body petitioned over record-breaking prison sentence in lèse-majesté case

FIDH and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) yesterday (7 July) petitioned the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) to seek the release of Anchan Preelerd, who is currently serving the longest prison sentence ever imposed under Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code (lèse-majesté). Anchan, 65, is currently incarcerated at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution in Bangkok.

Anchan (Center) has been sentenced to 87 years in prison - the longest prison sentence ever imposed in a lèse majesté case. 

On 19 January 2021, the Bangkok Criminal Court sentenced Anchan, a former civil servant, to 87 years in prison on 29 counts of lèse-majesté for uploading and disseminating audio clips to social media platforms between 12 November 2014 and January 2015. Authorities deemed such audio clips to be defamatory to the Thai monarchy. Her sentence was reduced to 43 years and six months, in consideration of her guilty plea.

Article 112 prescribes jail terms for those who defame, insult, or threaten the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne, or the Regent. Persons found guilty of violating Article 112 face prison terms of three to 15 years for each count.

“Anchan’s outrageous prison sentence is effectively a death sentence for an act that constitutes a peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The Thai government must immediately release her and end such extreme abuse of the lèse-majesté law,” said FIDH Secretary-General Adilur Rahman Khan.

FIDH and TLHR believe the prosecution of Anchan and her deprivation of liberty have been in violation of her right to a fair trial and her right to freedom of opinion and expression. These rights are guaranteed by Articles 14 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party.

“Anchan has been subjected to unfair judicial proceedings in a military court, lengthy detention before and during trial, and an unprecedented prison sentence. The Thai government must right the wrongs suffered by Anchan and immediately release her,” said TLHR Head Yaowalak Anuphan.

Anchan was arrested on 25 January 2015 and detained at a military base for five days. Her criminal case under Article 112 was initially tried in a military court. Her bail requests were repeatedly denied and she spent three years and 281 days in detention, before eventually being temporarily released on bail on 2 November 2018. The criminal case against her remained under the jurisdiction of the Bangkok Military Court until July 2019, when the ruling military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), ordered the transfer of trials of civilians in military courts to civilian courts.

Since August 2012, the WGAD has found the deprivation of liberty of eight individuals detained under Article 112 to be “arbitrary.” They were all subsequently released. Over the past decade, various UN human rights monitoring mechanisms have repeatedly expressed concern over the enforcement of Article 112. They have consistently stated such legislation is inconsistent with international human rights law and have called for its amendment or repeal, and the release of lèse-majesté detainees.

FIDH and TLHR call for the immediate and unconditional release of Anchan and the amendment of Article 112 to bring it into line with Thailand’s obligations under the ICCPR. The two organizations also urge the government to refrain from carrying out arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of individuals for merely exercising their fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression.

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