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Number of individuals charged with royal defamation passes 200

As the number of individuals charged with royal defamation passed 200 in just over 18 months, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) call on the Thai government to end the prosecution, arrest, and detention of individuals exercising their freedom of expression and to amend the royal defamation law  to bring it into line with Thailand’s human rights obligations under the ICCPR.

"Repeal Section 112" sprayed onto the street during a protest at the Criminal Court in December 2021

The number of individuals charged with royal defamation has passed 200 in just over 18 months in Thailand, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said on 19 June 2022. Arrests, detentions, and prosecutions under Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code (lèse-majesté) have mainly targeted pro-democratic activists and protesters who exercised their right to freedom of expression, including online.

“At the current pace of prosecutions, and given the traditionally high conviction rates in lèse-majesté trials, Thailand may soon become one of the countries with the highest number of political prisoners in the region. The Thai government must put an immediate end to this lèse-majesté epidemic and comply with its international human rights obligations," said Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General. 

According to information complied by TLHR, between 24 November 2020 and 16 June 2022, 201 individuals – including 16 children – have been charged under Article 112, which imposes jail terms for those who defame, insult, or threaten the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne, or the Regent. Those found guilty of violating Article 112 face prison terms of three to 15 years for each count. Some lèse-majesté defendants face numerous prosecutions and prison sentences ranging from 120 to 300 years.

The current wave of lèse-majesté prosecutions and arrests began in late November 2020 after Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha pledged to enforce “all laws and articles” against pro-democratic leaders and protesters.

At the time of writing, at least four individuals charged with lèse-majesté are being detained pending trial. They are: Thalu Wang members Natthanit [last name withheld] and Netiporn [last name withheld]; Pakee Sahai member Veha Saenchonchanaseuk; and Private Mathin [pseudonym]. On 2 June 2022, Natthanit and Netiporn went on a hunger strike to protest against the deprivation of their liberty. In addition, two other individuals, Anchan Preelerd and Sombat Tongyoi, remain behind bars after being sentenced to prison terms of 87 and six years, respectively.

Various United Nations (UN) human rights monitoring mechanisms have repeatedly expressed concern over Thailand’s lèse-majesté prosecutions and the severe application of Article 112. They have also called for the amendment or repeal of Article 112.

Since August 2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has declared the deprivation of liberty of nine lèse-majesté detainees to be “arbitrary” because it contravened several provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party. Eight of those detainees were released after serving their jail terms, while the ninth, Anchan Preelerd, remains incarcerated.

The arrest and prosecution of children under Article 112 is also inconsistent with Thailand’s obligation under international law. Article 13(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which Thailand is a state party, stipulates that children have the right to freedom of expression, including freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds. Article 37(b) of CRC states that children should not be deprived of their liberty arbitrarily and that the arrest, detention, or imprisonment of children should be used as a measure of last resort.

FIDH and TLHR reiterate their calls on the Thai government to refrain from carrying out arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of individuals for the legitimate and peaceful exercise of their fundamental right to freedom of expression. FIDH and TLHR also urge the Thai government to amend Article 112 to bring it into line with Thailand’s human rights obligations under the ICCPR.

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