UN: ‘Deeply Troubled’ by Rash of Royal Defamation Cases in Thailand

BenarNews staff
Bangkok and Washington
2020-12-18
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UN: ‘Deeply Troubled’ by Rash of Royal Defamation Cases in Thailand A child waves a flag ahead of a candlelight vigil to remember the birthday of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Dec. 5, 2020.
Reuters

Updated at 8:22 p.m. ET on 2020-12-18

The United Nations expressed deep concern Friday about Thailand’s move in recent weeks to charge pro-democracy activists – including a 16-year-old – over alleged violations of a strict law against royal defamation, and urged the government to amend it.

A day after authorities in Bangkok charged a teenage schoolboy and several other people for alleged violations of the so-called Lese-Majeste law stemming from anti-government protests, the U.N. office for human rights in Geneva spoke out against a resumption in such cases after a two-year pause.

“We are deeply troubled by the move by Thai authorities to charge at least 35 protesters in recent weeks, including a 16-year old student protester, under Article 112 – the [Lese-Majeste] provision of Thailand’s criminal code,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.

“It is extremely disappointing that after a period of two years without any cases, we are suddenly witnessing a large number of cases, and – shockingly – now also against a minor.”

On Thursday, a schoolboy identified by his lawyers only by his first name, Noppasilp, was charged along with 23-year-old activist Jatuporn Sae Ung on suspicion of committing royal defamation law by performing in a street show that poked fun at the monarchy during a pro-democracy protest in October.

Jatuporn, 23, and Noppasilp both participated in a satirical “fashion catwalk” in which they wore outfits that appeared to allude to Thai royals, as protesters held signs complaining about the expensive lifestyle of one of his daughters, according to Thai media reports.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a legal aid group defending activists charged with various alleged criminal violations in connection with youth-led pro-democracy protests, said at least 33 people had been charged with Lese-Majeste through Thursday. Protesters since July have been demanding that former junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha resign, the military-backed constitution be rewritten and the monarchy be reformed.

Under Lese-Majeste, people who are tried and convicted of violations can be sentenced to between three to 15 years in prison for actions or speech deemed insulting, defaming, or threatening to the king, queen or any other member of the royal family.

Until late November, no one in Thailand had been charged with Lese-Majeste since 2018.

“We call on the Government of Thailand to stop the repeated use of such serious criminal charges against individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. People should be able to exercise these rights without fear of reprisals,” the U.N. human rights office said.

“We also urge the Government to amend the [Lese-Majeste] law and bring it into line with Article 19 of the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] on the right to freedom of expression,” it said.

In February 2017, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also called on Thailand to amend the royal defamation law after a Thai man was sentenced to 35 years in prison for sharing a BBC News profile of Thailand’s new king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, on his Facebook page.

On Saturday morning (local time), the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the statement from the United Nations.

“Thailand’s Lese-Majeste law is not aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of expression nor the legitimate exercise of academic freedom or debates about the monarchy as an institution,” Tanee Sangrat, a spokesman for the ministry, said in a statement.

“This law, in various forms, exists in many countries around the world and in Thailand, it gives protection to the rights or reputations of the King, Queen and the Heir-apparent, or the Regent in a similar way that libel law does for any Thai citizen.”

Regarding the case of the 16-year-old who was charged on Thursday, the Juvenile Court denied the request for a detention order and granted the teen conditional bail, the ministry noted.

“Once again, it bears repeating that in the past couple of months, protestors have not been arrested solely for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.  Those arrested had violated other Thai laws and admittedly the majority have been released,” Tanee said. 

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