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.

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
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

Cover Supervisor

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Cover Supervisor...

English and Drama Teacher needed in Wrexham

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: English Teacher needed in Wrexham The ...

English Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: English Teacher The school, the childW...

English Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Chester: English Teacher The school, th...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits