Lèse-majesté abuse reaches a new extreme

Press release
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(Bangkok, Paris) The latest lèse-majesté jail sentence has taken Thailand’s restrictions on freedom of expression to a new extreme, FIDH and its Thai member organizations Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) said today.

“While no individual should be subjected to deprivation of liberty for exercising the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the imprisonment of Pai represents an extreme abuse of lèse-majesté because it has been used to punish him for the dissemination of factually accurate information about the Thai monarch.”

Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President

On 15 August 2017, following a closed-door hearing, the Khon Kaen Provincial Court sentenced student activist Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa aka Pai to five years in prison under Article 112 of the Criminal Code (lèse-majesté). Article 112 punishes with prison terms of three to 15 years those who are found guilty of defaming, insulting, or threatening the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne, or the Regent.

The court halved the sentence to two years and six months in consideration of Jatuphat’s guilty plea. Rather than a confession of guilt, the guilty plea is a strategic decision that the overwhelming majority of lèse-majesté defendants have made in order to obtain a significant reduction in their jail sentence.

Jatuphat, 26, a pro-democracy activist and member of the ‘Dao Din’ group, was arrested on 3 December 2016 for sharing a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) profile of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun on Facebook. The BBC’s Thai language website published the profile on 2 December 2016. Jatuphat was released on bail shortly after his arrest. However, on 22 December 2016, the Khon Kaen Provincial Court approved a police request to revoke Jatuphat’s bail after he posted a satirical message mocking the authorities on his Facebook account. He has been detained in Khon Kaen Provincial Correctional Institution ever since and has consistently been denied bail. To date, Jatuphat is the only individual who has been arrested and charged among the approximately 3,000 web users who shared the BBC profile of the Thai King on Facebook.

“The selective prosecution of only one of the thousands of web users who shared the Thai King’s online profile shows that the junta has fabricated the lèse-majesté charges against Pai in order to silence one of its staunchest and most vocal critics.”

Jon Ungpakorn, iLaw Executive Director

Jatuphat has faced arrest and legal action on numerous occasions in connection with his pro-democracy activities. On 19 November 2014, Jatuphat and four other student activists were arrested by police and subsequently detained by the military for several hours for staging a silent protest and flashing a defiant three-finger salute while junta head Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was delivering a speech during an official visit to Khon Kaen.

On 22 May 2015, police arrested Jatuphat along with six fellow members of the ‘Dao Din’ group for staging a peaceful anti-junta demonstration to mark the one-year anniversary of the military coup at Khon Kaen Democracy Monument. All seven were released on bail the next day after being charged with violating National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order 3/2015, which bans political gatherings of more than four people. If convicted by a military court, they could face prison terms of up to six months or a 10,000 baht (US$286) fine.

On 26 June 2015, police arrested Jatuphat along with 13 other student activists for in anti-junta peaceful demonstration at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument a day earlier. The 14 activists were released by the Bangkok Military Court on 8 July 2015 after being charged with violating NCPO Order 3/2015 and Article 116 of the Criminal Code (‘sedition’). If convicted under Article 116, Jatuphat faces up to seven years in prison.

Jatuphat is facing additional charges under NCPO Order 3/2015 for organizing a public discussion on Thailand’s 2017 constitution at Khon Kaen University on 31 July 2016.

On 6 August 2016, Jatuphat was arrested in Chaiyaphum Province for distributing leaflets that urged voters to reject the junta-backed constitution in the 7 August 2016 referendum. He was released on 19 August 2017, after being charged with violating Article 61 of the 2016 Referendum Act. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to 200,000 baht (US$5,713), and the revocation of his voting rights for a period of up to 10 years.

“Article 112 must be urgently reformed in accordance with the numerous recommendations made by UN bodies. Failure to do so will inevitably result in more arbitrary arrests, detentions, and unjust prosecutions in violation of Thailand’s obligations under international law.”

Jaturong Boonyarattanasoontorn, UCL Chairman

Since the 22 May 2014 coup, 112 people have been arrested for violating Article 112. Fifty-three of them have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 35 years. To date, at least 60 individuals are either detained awaiting trial or imprisoned for lèse-majesté violations. At the time of the military takeover, there were six individuals behind bars on lèse-majesté charges.

In the last several years, many United Nations (UN) bodies have continued to express their concern over the prosecutions, the prolonged detentions, and the lengthy prison sentences under Article 112. They have also repeatedly called for the amendment of Article 112 and the release of lèse-majesté detainees, emphasizing that the deprivation of liberty stemming from lèse-majesté prosecutions is in violation of Thailand’s legal obligations under international law with regard to the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

In its latest opinion concerning the lèse-majesté detention of Pongsak Sriboonpeng, issued on 21 November 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) recalled that “under certain circumstances, widespread or systematic imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of the rules of international law, may constitute crimes against humanity.”

UN human rights monitoring bodies, including the Human Rights Committee (CCPR), and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), have called for the amendment of Article 112 to bring it into conformity with Thailand’s international obligations. On 11 May 2016, during its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Thailand received seven recommendations that called for the repeal or amendment of Article 112 and for an end of its abuse to limit freedom of expression.

FIDH, UCL, and iLaw urge the Thai government to end the abuse of lèse-majesté and immediately and unconditionally release those detained or imprisoned under Article 112 for the mere exercise of their fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Press contact
Ms. Audrey Couprie (French, English) - Tel: +33143551412 (Paris)
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