The royal defamation law reflects Thai society and is needed to protect the monarchy and national security, said Minister of Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Thani Thongphakdi at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session on Wednesday (10 November).
Thailand is one of 13 states whose human rights record is being examined by the UN Human Rights Council’s UPR Working Group during its current session, 1-12 November 2021. This is Thailand’s 3rd UPR review; the first was October 2011 and the second in May 2016.
During the session, delegates from other UN member countries made recommendations to the Thai government on human rights issues, including the anti-torture and enforced disappearance bill, the new non-profit organization bill, and violation of freedom of expression.
The US, Luxembourg, and Belgium recommended that Thailand amend the royal defamation law, or Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. The US suggested removing the prison sentence for violations of Section 112. Luxembourg said that the sedition law, or Section 116, and the Computer Crimes Act both limit freedom of expression, while Belgium raised concerns about the arrests of pro-democracy protesters. Both countries recommended that Section 112 be amended so as to be in compliance with the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). South Korea also recommended amendments to laws about freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, as well as calling for the enactment of the law against enforced disappearances.
Ireland recommended that the Thai government end legal prosecution against political activists. Japan recommended that Thailand improves the situation regarding freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and Malawi recommended that law enforcement officers be trained to meet international standards for overseeing protests.
Iceland recommended that Thailand ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and raised questions about marriage equality in Thailand.
Answering recommendations from other delegates, Thani said that Section 112 reflects Thailand’s society and history, where the monarchy is respected, and the law is therefore needed to protect the monarchy and national security, while amending Section 112 is within the authority of the parliament.
Thani insisted that the Thai government respects freedom of expression, but this must be exercised within the limits of the law. He said that the government has to find the balance between the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and peace and order, that the press has the freedom to report information to the public, and any interference from state officials has been to prevent the spread of misinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A representative from the Ministry of Justice also said that the anti-torture and enforced disappearance bill is currently being considered by parliament, with participation from civil society.
Concerns regarding the use of the royal defamation law have been raised during Thailand’s previous UPR sessions. Recommendations ranging from reducing the sentence to repealing the law have been made, but were never accepted by Thai delegates, citing national security.
While the UPR session was taking place in Geneva, the Constitutional Court in Bangkok ruled that speeches made by protest leaders Anon Nampa, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, and Panupong Jadnok at the 3 August and 10 August 2020 protests, and subsequent calls for monarchy reform, are considered abuse of constitutional rights and liberties to overthrow the regime, since the monarchy is an essential part of government since ancient times, and a constitutional amendment regarding the status of the monarch or amendment of Section 112 would diminish the respected status of the monarchy, leading to unrest and affecting public morality.