Thai magazine editor jailed for 11 years for insulting king

 

A high-profile activist and magazine editor has been sentenced to 11 years in jail after he was convicted of defaming Thailand’s monarchy – the latest case involving the country’s increasingly controversial lese majeste laws.

The Criminal Court in Bangkok convicted former magazine editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk over two articles deemed offensive to the royal family. But observers say they believe the activist was being punished less for what he wrote than for his role in trying to reform the strict defamation laws, which critics are often used for political reasons.

“We accept the ruling but we will appeal,” Mr Somyot’s lawyer, Karom Polpornklang, told the AFP. “I can confirm that he did not intend to violate article 112. He was doing his job as a journalist. We will seek bail for him.”

The lese majeste laws were established to protest Thailand’s king and other members of the royal family from comments or statements that could be deemed to damage the institution. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 85, who is widely admired by many Thais even if other members of the royal family are not, has been in hospital since September 2009.

But activists say the laws have increasingly been used for political reasons and to pursue members of the Red Shirt movement and others who were largely supportive of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The law carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a minimum sentence of three years behind bars.

Mr Somyot was among those wishing to reform the law and alter article 112 of the criminal code to reduce the maximum punishment to three years and scrap the minimum sentence all together. As the law currently stands, ordinary Thais are prevented from having any meaningful public discussion or debate about the defamation law, or indeed issues such as who will succeed the ailing King Bhumibol.

The sentence handed out on Wednesday to Mr Somyot, who had been held in custody for a year and who was brought into court in shackles, has been widely condemned by campaigners both in Thailand and internationally. The articles had been published in the now-defunct Voice of Thaksin magazine.

“The courts seem to have adopted the role of chief protector of the monarchy at the expense of free expression rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch. “The court’s ruling appears to be more about Somyot's strong support for amending the lese majeste law than about any harm incurred by the monarchy.”

The delegation of the EU to Thailand said the ruling undermined the right to freedom of expression. “At the same time, it affects Thailand’s image as a free and democratic society,” it added in a statement.

Several labour groups, including the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Thai Labour Campaign, also voiced their anger over the sentence.

The issue of lese majeste is inextricably linked to the political turmoil that has gripped Thailand since Mr Thaksin was forced from office in a coup in 2006 and which in 2010 saw more than 90 people killed in protests on the streets. In the summer of 2011, his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, won a historic victory to become Thailand’s first premier and vowed that her government would order a review of the controversial lese majeste law.

However, persistent fears that the army might try and stage another coup or that so-called Yellow Shirt opponents might take over the streets in mass protests, appears to have persuaded Ms Yingluck that reforming the law is not a priority for her. Last year, a government advisor told The Independent that they had decided to leave the issue alone.

“Unfortunately, the failure of this government to review the lese majeste law is entirely predictable,’ said Duncan Duncan McCargo, an expert on South East Asian politics at Leeds University. “Yingluck Shinawatra is performing a delicate balancing act to preserve the political deal which keeps her in office - and doing so involves keeping the country’s conservative institutions, including the palace, the judiciary and the military onside.”

The judge in Mr Somyot’s case found that two articles he published under a pseudonym contained material that defamed the royal family. They said that given his experience as a journalist he should have been aware of what he was doing. He was sentenced for five years for each article, plus the year he had already spent in custody.

Though Mr Somyot said he will appeal the decision, he made clear he will not seek a royal pardon.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor