Thai Editor Detained 20 Months for Royal Insult May Face Verdict

Thai editor and labor activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, who has been detained since April 2011 on charges of insulting the royal family, may face a verdict as early as today, according to his lawyer.

Bangkok’s Criminal Court may either set a date for the verdict or make a ruling when Somyot appears at a hearing today, lawyer Karom Polthaklang said by phone. Somyot, who maintains his innocence, has been denied bail 10 times since his arrest, which came five days after a group he’s involved with started a campaign to review the law that he’s charged with breaching.

The cases of Somyot and others charged with insulting the royal family have generated concern from the United Nations as calls grow within Thailand to change the lese-majeste law, which falls under the criminal code’s Article 112. It mandates jail sentences as long as 15 years for defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, heir apparent or regent.

“According to the constitution, the accused must be treated as innocent until the final ruling,” Karom said by phone. “But the court didn’t look at it that way. How can his bail be rejected 10 times? He never had a bad record and he never had an intention to flee.”

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 85, assumed the throne in 1946 and serves as head of state. Thailand’s constitution says the king “shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated.”

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Somyot faces a lese-majeste charge for allowing the publication of two magazine articles that make negative references to the monarchy, according to the 112 Family Network, a support group for those detained because of royal insults. Somyot is among seven people known to be currently imprisoned on lese majeste charges, the group said.

In August, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said that Somyot’s detention contravened the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was ratified by Thailand in 1996. It called for the government to release Somyot, noting that all public figures, including heads of state, are subject to criticism and political opposition.

“Thailand never has human rights,” Karom said. “We may say it in the book, but we never respect it. It’s just the way people use the law to benefit them politically. Our system is still underdeveloped.”

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