Thailand Rules Lese Majeste Law Constitutional, Extends Crackdown on Free Expression

The decision by Thailand’s Constitutional Court to rule that Article 112 of the Criminal Code  - the ‘lese majeste law’ - is a devastating blow to freedom of expression and internet freedom in Thailand and contradicts the constitution’s mandate to protect human rights.   The Thai government has used Article 112 of the Criminal Code (Lèse Majesté) – which criminalizes defamation of the royal family – to curtail the space for diverse political opinions and freedom of expression online and offline.

The constitutional court’s ruling was based on petitions submitted to the Criminal Court by two individuals—Somyos Prueksakasemsuk and Ekachai Hongkangwan—who were charged under Article 112.  Prueksakasemsuk has been in detention since April 2011 after publishing two articles about lese majeste. Hongkangwan, a vendor, was released on bail after arrested for selling CD’s containing content that ‘violated’ the lese majeste law.

“Convicting and imprisoning ordinary citizens for expressing their opinions, even if deemed insulting to the royal family, does less for promoting national unity than for instilling fear and self-censorship among the population,” said Courtney Radsch, senior program manager for the Global Freedom of Expression Campaign at Freedom House.

Thailand is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2012 and Freedom of the Press 2012, and Not Free in Freedom of the Net 2012.  Fines and imprisonment for defamation and criticism of the government are often used to silence government critics.  The end of 2011 saw an increase in repressive practices through a new online monitoring agency and the expanded use of lèse-majesté laws. In December 2011, U.S. citizen Joe Gordon was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for posting a link on his website to a book that was critical of the monarchy. In May 2012, Ampon Tangnoppakul, known as “Uncle SMS,” died while serving a 20-year prison sentence after he was convicted for sending text messages “offending the Thai royal family.” Tangnoppakul denied all charges against him, claiming he did not even know how to send a text message. The same month, webmaster Chiranuch (Jiew) Premchaiporn was handed an eight-month suspended prison sentence and forced to pay a fine for comments posted by visitors on her online forum.

Learn more:

Freedom in the World 2012: Thailand

Freedom of the Press 2012: Thailand

Freedom on the Net 2012: Thailand

Blog: Freedom at Issue