UN body demands immediate release of woman jailed for record lèse-majesté sentence

29/12/2021
Press release
en th

(Bangkok, Paris) Thai authorities should immediately release lèse-majesté detainee Anchan Preelerd, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) urged in an opinion adopted on 17 November 2021 and issued on 20 December. Anchan, 65, is currently serving a prison sentence of 43 years and six months for violating Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code (lèse-majesté).

“The UN opinion on Anchan’s case underscores the supreme injustice to which she has been subjected and the recurring and serious human rights violations associated with the enforcement of Article 112. It’s time for the Thai government to break the chain of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions and heed the growing domestic and international calls for the reform of Article 112.”

Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General

The WGAD opinion was issued in response to a complaint filed jointly by FIDH and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) to the UN body on 7 July 2021. In its opinion, the WGAD found the deprivation of liberty of Anchan under Article 112 to be “arbitrary” and called on the Thai government to “release her immediately,” taking into account the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic in places of detention, and to “accord her an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations.”

The WGAD expressed its grave concern about the pattern of arbitrary detentions under Article 112, particularly those involving online expression, and the “serious harm to society” caused by the enforcement of the law.

The WGAD also called on the Thai government to bring Article 112 into conformity with Thailand’s obligations under international human rights law. Article 112 prescribes 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 WGAD declared Anchan’s imprisonment arbitrary because it contravened Articles 3, 8, 9, 10, and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Articles 2, 9, 14, and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party. The referenced provisions of the UDHR and ICCPR guarantee the fundamental right to liberty, the right to a fair trial, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The WGAD found that Anchan’s deprivation of liberty lacked legal basis, because it stemmed from an arrest without a valid arrest warrant issued by a competent, independent, and impartial judicial authority. Anchan’s initial detention at the military base without being brought before a judge was also in violation of her right to challenge the lawfulness of her detention, guaranteed under Articles 8 and 9 of the UDHR and Articles 2 and 9(3) of the ICCPR. In addition, Anchan was detained pursuant to Article 112, a legislation that the WGAD has consistently found it “expressly violates international human rights law.”

The WGAD also ruled that Anchan was detained as a result of her “peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression.” The WGAD considered the audio clips concerning members of the Thai royal family that Anchan uploaded onto social media platforms to “fall within the boundaries of the exercise of the right to freedom of expression” under Article 19 of the UDHR and Article 19 of the ICCPR.

FIDH and TLHR welcome the WGAD’s opinion and reiterate their calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Anchan and all other individuals detained under Article 112.

Anchan is the ninth lèse-majesté detainee whose deprivation of liberty has been found to be arbitrary by the WGAD since August 2012. Despite the continuing international concern regarding the lèse-majesté law, Thai authorities continued to prosecute and detain individuals for violating Article 112. Between 24 November 2020 and 20 December 2021, 164 individuals, including children, were charged under article 112. Five of them remain detained, in addition to Anchan.

FIDH and TLHR also call on the Thai government to amend Article 112 to bring it into line with Thailand’s obligations under the ICCPR and to refrain from carrying out further arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of individuals for the peaceful and legitimate exercise of their fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Background

On 19 January 2021, Anchan, a former civil servant, was found guilty and sentenced to 87 years in prison on 29 counts of lèse-majesté over audio clips she uploaded and disseminated to social media platforms deemed to be defamatory to the Thai monarchy by the authorities. Her sentence was reduced to 43 years and six months, in consideration of her guilty plea. Upon the verdict, Anchan was imprisoned at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution in Bangkok.

Anchan was arrested on 25 January 2015 and detained at a military base for five days. Prior to her imprisonment, Anchan spent three years and 281 days in detention. Her criminal case under Article 112 was initially tried in a military court, who repeatedly denied her bail requests. Anchan was temporarily released on bail on 2 November 2018, though the lèse-majesté case against her remained under the jurisdiction of the Bangkok Military Court until July 2019, when the ruling military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), ordered the transfer of trials of civilians in military courts to civilian courts.

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