[JURIST] A Thai court sentenced magazine editor and political activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk under Thailand’s lese majeste law to a total of 11 years in prison. Section 112 of the Thai Penal Code [text] is the lese majeste law, which reads: “Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” Somyot was sentenced [BBC report] to five years for each of two articles negatively mentioning the monarchy that he published under pseudonyms [AP report] in his magazine, Voice of Taksin, in 2010. He was sentenced to an additional year from a suspended defamation case that was over three years old. Somyot and the magazine were associated with Thailand’s “red-shirt” [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] movement, which led anti-government protests in 2010 [JURIST report]. Somyot was arrested five days after launching a petition calling for a review of the lese majeste laws. The sentence has been criticized by both Human Rights Watch [advocacy website], which said the ruling was more akin to punishment [press release] for Somyot’s support for amending the lese majeste law than it was about any harm to the monarchy, and by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile], who said [press release], “People exercising freedom of expression should not be punished in the first place.” Sumyot’s lawyer has said he will appeal the verdict but will not seek a royal pardon.
Thailand’s lese majeste laws have generated controversy. US citizen Joe Gordon was released [JURIST report] from a Thai prison in July on a royal pardon that commuted a two-and-a-half-year sentence for defaming the Thai royal family. Gordon was sentenced [JURIST report] in December 2011 after pleading guilty in October. 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 [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 protester to 18 years in prison [JURIST report].