The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, today called on the Thai authorities to stop using lèse-majesté provisions as a political tool to stifle critical speech. In Thailand, defaming, insulting or threatening the royal family carries a penalty of three to fifteen years’ imprisonment.
“Public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority, may be subject to criticism, and the fact that some forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify restrictions or penalties,” the expert underlined.
“The lèse-majesté provision of the Thai Criminal Code is incompatible with international human rights law,” Mr. Kaye said, “and this is a concern that I and my predecessors have raised on numerous occasions with the authorities.”
The expert’s call comes as law student activist Jatupat Boonpatararaksa awaits trial for defaming the crown. Mr. Boonpatararaksa is the first person charged with lèse-majesté since the new King, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, acceded the throne on 1 December 2016.
On 2 December 2016, Mr. Boonpatararaksa was arrested and charged under the lèse-majesté provision of the Criminal Code and under the Computer Crimes Act, after having shared a BBC news article on the new King and quoted content of the news on his private Facebook page.
Mr. Boonpatararaksa is currently in detention after his bail was revoked by an appeals court on 27 December, reportedly justified by the case’s sensitive matter and on public order and national security grounds. “I concerned about reports that the court hearing on his bail took place behind closed doors, in contradiction to the right to a fair and public hearing,” the Special Rapporteur said.
Earlier this month, on 1 February, his remand was extended for another 10 days. His next appearance before the court to hear whether there will be a new extension or not is on 10 February. No trial date has been confirmed.
In September 2016, the Thai Prime Minister revoked a previous order that granted military tribunals the authority to try lèse-majesté cases. All lèse-majesté acts committed after September 2016 will be tried at civilian courts.
However, actions committed before September 2016 continue to be brought before military tribunals, which have applied harsher penalties on lèse-majesté cases. In 2015, a military tribunal sentenced Phongsak Sribunpeng to 30 years, Ms. Sasiwimol Patomwongfa-ngam to 28 years and Mr. Thiansutham Suttijitseranee to 25 years imprisonment for criticizing the monarchy on Facebook.
“Lesè-majesté provisions have no place in a democratic country. I urge the authorities of Thailand to take steps to revise the country’s Criminal Code and to repeal the law that establishes a justification for criminal prosecution,” the human rights expert stressed.
He let them off the hook a bit. Thailand isn’t a democratic country. It’s a military dictatorship.
Update: Thailand’s military dictatorship’s minions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have responded or, as they say, “clarified.” PPT’s “response” in brackets:
With regard to the news release issued by the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression voicing concerns over the use of the lèse-majesté law, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to clarify as follows:
1. The Thai monarchy has always been a pillar of stability in Thailand [Not accurate. Since 1932, royalists and the palace have consistently destabilized governments]. The Thai sense of identity is closely linked to the monarchy [Palace propaganda], an institution that dates back over 700 years [More palace propaganda and historically inaccurate]. The institution, to this day, continues to play a unifying role and symbolizes the unity of the Thai communities [well, for the royalist elite, certainly]. Enacting appropriate legislation to protect the highly revered institution is a common practice in Thailand as in other nations [Not true].
2. The lèse-majesté law is part of Thailand’s Criminal Code that gives protection to the rights or reputations of Their Majesties the King and Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent in a similar manner that libel law does for commoners to uphold national security and public order [the law has also been used to attack political opponents and protect dead kings, jail fraudsters, manage a royal “divorce” and protect a royal dog]. It is not aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of expression [Blatant lie]. Similar protection is provided for the King, Queen and Heir-apparent of other States as well as official representatives thereof as enshrined in article 133 – 134 of Thailand’s Criminal Code [This is an innovation in these kinds of claims. As far as we know, the law has never been used for foreign heads of state]. Cases proceeded under the lèse-majesté law are in no way politically motivated [Blatant lie].
3. While Thailand supports and values freedom of expression, these rights are not absolute and shall be exercised within the boundary of the law in a manner that does not disrupt public order and social harmony or infringe upon others’ rights or reputations, as stipulated in Article 19 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. [This is accurate] Hence, the application of the lèse-majesté law is not incompatible with international human rights law [The point is that lese majeste is used against political opponents and to restrict them in ways that defy Thai law and constitutions].
4. As with other criminal offences, proceedings on lèse-majesté cases are conducted in accordance with due legal process [This includes secret trials and military courts, all “legal” in the junta’s Thailand]. Those convicted for lèse-majesté are entitled to the same rights as those convicted for other criminal offences, including the right to file an appeal and the right to seek royal pardon [True enough. However, they are routinely denied bail, treated badly in prison, have lawyer access limited and proceedings are dragged out to gain “guilty” pleas].
5. Regarding the legal proceedings against Mr. Jatupat Boonpattararaksa who has been charged under the lèse-majesté law and the Computer Crimes Act, the case is being independently deliberated by the Court of Justice [No court in Thailand is “independent”]. The government is not in a position to intervene in the proceedings while the judiciary exercises its power in accordance with the law. The accused’s bail was granted on 23 December 2016 and was later revoked as he was repeating his offense, thereby violating his bail conditions [Jatuphat is a political opponent and is being framed].