Thailand: Abuse of lèse-majesté law obstructs creative expression

04/06/2015
Press release
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Paris, Geneva, 4 June 2015: Thailand’s abuse of Article 112 of the Criminal Code (lèse-majesté) has considerably limited creative expression regarding the Thai monarchy and has led to the imprisonment of several artists and writers, FIDH said in a new report released today.

The report, entitled Dark Ages - Violations of cultural rights under Thailand’s lèse-majesté law, explains how the country’s restrictions under Article 112 violate its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which Thailand is a state party. FIDH released the report on the occasion of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ (CESCR) review of Thailand’s periodic report on 4-5 June in Geneva.

“Authorities have systematically blocked websites, banned books, and suppressed all other acts and material, written or oral, that are considered critical of the Thai royal family. These measures, coupled with the imposition of harsh prison sentences for lèse-majesté violators, effectively prevent any public debate about the Thai monarchy,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code imposes jail terms for those who defame, insult, or threaten the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne, or the Regent. Persons found guilty of violating Article 112 face prison terms of three to 15 years for each count.

The report documents how Thailand’s overzealous enforcement of Article 112 has resulted in the country’s failure to comply with its obligation to respect and protect the right of everyone to participate in cultural life. Article 15 of the ICESCR guarantees this right.

The imprisonment of theater actors Pornthip Munkong aka Golf and Patiwat Saraiyaem aka Bank on lèse-majesté charges for performing in a political play clearly illustrates the link between Thailand’s abuse of Article 112 and its failure to protect the right to participate in cultural life. Other individuals involved in that performance fled the country for fear of being arrested under Article 112.

In recent years, there have been several cases of lèse-majesté charges and incarcerations stemming from the publication of material related to the Thai monarchy. Under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the military junta that seized power in a coup on 22 May 2014, the number of detentions and prosecutions under Article 112 has increased dramatically. Thirteen of the 16 post-2014 coup lèse-majesté cases resulting in prison sentences presented elements related to the right to freedom of expression and to take part in cultural life. In many cases, lèse-majesté charges were filed against individuals who shared opinions and content related to the monarchy through Facebook. One lèse-majesté suspect, Siraphop Komarut, has been detained since June 2014 and remains behind bars awaiting trial for writing a poem that alluded to revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Thailand has also routinely banned books and other publications that provide a critical perspective on King Bhumibol and other members of the royal family. The atmosphere of fear created by these measures has resulted in widespread self-censorship.

In addition, authorities have conducted a relentless and wide-ranging campaign to censor online content that is considered offensive to the monarchy. This trend has continued under the NCPO. Since 22 May 2014, authorities have blocked thousands of websites that allegedly defamed the monarchy. In early January 2015, the NCPO approved a draft Cyber Security Bill, which is aimed at legalizing pervasive controls over electronic communications. NCPO head General Prayuth Chan-ocha indicated that one of the objectives of the Cyber Security Bill was to crackdown on online lèse-majesté content. The proposed legislation envisions the establishment of a government-run committee that would have the authority to access information on personal computers, mobile phones, and other electronic devices without a court order.

“Censorship, prison, or exile are the most likely scenarios for those who criticize the Thai monarchy,” Mr. Lahidji said. “At the very least, Thailand must amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code to remove prison terms for offenses stemming from the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Authorities must also stop censorship of online and printed material related to the Thai monarchy to ensure a free flow of ideas and information,” he urged.

FIDH’s report makes numerous recommendations to ensure that restrictions imposed on the right to participate in cultural life under Article 112 are compatible with Thailand’s obligations under the ICESCR.

The report is an updated version of the shadow report submitted by FIDH to the 55th Session of the CESCR.

Press contact:
FIDH: Mr. Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) - Tel: +33672284294 (Paris)

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