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Lese majeste cases threaten freedom of expression: UN

The Nation/ANN | Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Thai junta to ensure its compliance with international human rights law, citing recent prosecution under the lese majeste law threatens freedom of expression.

"We reiterate our call to the military administration to ensure its compliance with Thailand's obligations under international human rights law, especially the ICCPR (the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). The threat of the use of the lèse majeste laws adds to the chilling effects on freedom of expression observed in Thailand after the coup, and risks curbing critical debate on issues of public interest," said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Three legal cases under the lese majeste law were highlighted in statement released on August 19.

Since the May 22 coup, at least 13 new lese majeste cases have been opened for investigation while other cases where charges had previously not been laid, have been revived.

Last week, on August 14-15, two university students were arrested for participating in a play in October 2013 that depicted a fictional monarch who was manipulated by his advisor.

The arrests followed a number of convictions and harsh sentences in lese majeste cases, including that of Plutnarin Thanaboriboonsuk who was also charged under the Computer Crime Act in relation to messages he posted on Facebook. He was sentenced on July 31 to 15 years in prison, reduced from a sentence of 30 years because of his guilty plea. The sentence came less than two months after charges were laid on June 16, even though the investigation had remained pending for more than two years.

In another case, on August 14, Yuthasak Kangwanwongsakul, a taxi driver, was sentenced to two years and six months in jail under the lese majeste laws for a conversation he had with a passenger. We are concerned that more charges may be filed and that more harsh sentences may be issued in the coming weeks.

Shamdasani added that the UN High Commissioner in 2013 supported amendments to the law under section 112 of the Criminal Code to address concerns related to the implementation of the law. In 2011, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion also urged the amendment of Thailand's lese majeste law, stating that section 112 was too vague and prescribes long maximum sentences that are contrary to permissible restrictions on freedom of expression under the ICCPR, which Thailand has ratified.

"We are seriously concerned about the prosecution and harsh sentencing of individuals in Thailand under the country's lese majeste law. Such measures are adding to the larger pattern of increasing restrictions on freedom of expression in Thailand."

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