Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) -- A Thai magazine editor was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allowing the publication of two articles that defamed King Bhumibol Adulyadej, prompting criticism from the European Union and human rights groups.
“The articles accused the king of having power over all past governments and being behind most crackdowns against demonstrators,” Bangkok’s Criminal Court said in a statement. “The information in those articles was incorrect. And as the editor of the publication, the defendant should take extreme caution in publishing.”
The editor, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, is the third person convicted in the last month for insulting the royal family as calls grow within Thailand to change laws used to shield the monarchy from criticism. He was arrested in April 2011, five days after helping start a campaign to change the lese-majeste law.
“The courts seem to have adopted the role of chief protector of the monarchy at the expense of free expression rights,” Brad Adams, Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement after the verdict. “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.”
Thailand’s lese-majeste law mandates jail sentences as long as 15 years for defaming, insulting or threatening the 85-year-old king, queen, heir apparent or regent. The Computer Crimes Act has also been used to punish offenders who criticize the monarchy online.
Freedom of Expression
“The verdict seriously undermines the right to freedom of expression and press freedom,” the EU said in a statement. “At the same time, it affects Thailand’s image as a free and democratic society.”
Somyot received a further year in jail for a previous defamation sentence that had been suspended, the court said. The articles were written by former cabinet minister Jakrapob Penkair, according to the court. Jakrapob, who also faces lese-majeste charges, now lives overseas.
Somyot will appeal, defense lawyer Suvit Thongnual told reporters, adding that they are seeking bail with collateral of 1.6 million baht ($54,000). “He has no intention to insult the king. He is just an editor.”
Last week, a court sentenced a comedian to two years in prison for implying that Bhumibol interfered in politics. He was freed on bail while he appeals the sentence.
On Dec. 25, a former equity trader received a four-year jail term for posting information on Bhumibol’s health that the court said caused the stock market to slide in October 2009.
Bhumibol 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.” Thailand has seen violent crackdowns on protesters pushing for greater democracy throughout Bhumibol’s 67-year reign, including in 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010.
In August, the United Nations 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.
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