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Thailand court upholds royal insult law

A Thai court on Wednesday upheld a controversial law which imposes criminal sanctions for those deemed to have insulted the royal family. The Thai Constitutional Court [official website] decided unanimously that Article 112 [text] of the Criminal Code of Thailand fell within the limits of the nation's constitution [Bangkok Post report]. Article 112 allows for anyone who "defames, insults or threatens" a member of the royal family to be sentenced to a prison term of three to 15 years. Somyos Prueksakasemsuk and Ekachai Hongkangwan, defendants in the cases heard by the court, claimed the lese majeste laws violated Sections 3, 8, 29 and 45 of the Thai constitution [text]. The court disgreed, ruling that the constitution upholds and protects the monarchy.

The lese majeste came under additional scrutiny recently following the arrest of an American man for violation of the law. Last December Joe Gordon was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison after he translated part of a banned biography and put the translation on the Internet, though he was pardoned in July [JURIST reports]. UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue [official website] recently condemned the lese majeste law [JURIST report] shortly after the guilty plea was submitted: "The threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression. ... This is exacerbated by the fact that the charges can be brought by private individuals and trials are often closed to the public." In 2009 Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called for a public trial [JURIST report] for a Thai political activist accused of lese majeste. In 2009 a Thai court sentenced an anti-coup protestor to 18 years in prison. Shortly afterward Awzar Thi, a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, wrote that in enforcing the law the Thailand judiciary was discrediting itself [JURIST comment] "in its hurry to defend increasingly outdated social arrangements."

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