Thailand releases 15-year-old royal defamation detainee News
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Thailand releases 15-year-old royal defamation detainee

Thailand’s Central Juvenile and Family Court ordered Thursday the release of Thanalop “Yok” Phalanchai, a 15-year-old girl who was detained in the Ban Pranee Juvenile Vocational Training Centre for Girls. Yok, who was arrested on March 28 and detained for a total of 51 days, was charged under Section 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code for criticizing the Thai monarchy during a rally in October 2022.

Section 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code stipulates that “[w]hoever defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The law serves as Thailand’s royal defamation–or lèse-majesté–law. It criminalizes defamation, insults and threats to members of the Thai monarchy.

In April, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Elaine Pearson called for Thai authorities to immediately release Yok and “drop the unjust case against her for criticizing the monarchy.” Pearson also espoused that the Thai government arresting a 15-year-old girl would “send[] the spine-chilling message that even children aren’t safe from being harshly punished for expressing their opinions.” Additionally, Pearson expressed that “[t]he Thai government should permit peaceful expression of political views, including questions about the monarchy” and that “Thai authorities should engage with UN experts and others about amending the lèse-majesté law to bring it into compliance with international human rights standards.”

In condemning Yok’s detention, HRW expressed that Thailand’s lèse-majesté law does not fully comply with international human rights standards. Detaining individuals charged with lèse-majesté contravenes their rights under international human rights law as demonstrated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Thailand has ratified the ICCPR, which encourages criminal suspects to be bailed under Article 9. In addition, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, also ratified by Thailand, states in Article 37(b) that children should only be arrested, detained, or imprisoned “as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” Furthermore, lèse-majesté charges may not fully comply with freedom of expression principles under the ICCPR, especially since General Comment 34 on Article 19 of the UN Human Rights Committee suggests that governments “should not prohibit criticism of institutions.”

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy ruled by head of state King Maha Vajiralongkorn, and head of government, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha. Arrests under defamation laws have increased significantly since 2020 after Chan-ocha ordered article 112 to be restored. Between mid-2020 and September 2022, at least 1,860 individuals, including 283 children, were charged under lèse-majesté laws. The UN raised alarm over the law in February 2021 and called for article 112 to be repealed. The UN also called for the release of those imprisoned on defamation charges.