GENEVA (7 February 2017) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, today called on the Thai authorities to stop using lèse-majesté provisions as a political tool to stifle critical speech. In Thailand, defaming, insulting or threatening the royal family carries a penalty of three to fifteen years’ imprisonment.
“Public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority, may be subject to criticism, and the fact that some forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify restrictions or penalties,” the expert underlined.
“The lèse-majesté provision of the Thai Criminal Code is incompatible with international human rights law,” Mr. Kaye said, “and this is a concern that I and my predecessors have raised on numerous occasions with the authorities.”
The expert’s call comes as law student activist Jatupat Boonpatararaksa awaits trial for defaming the crown. Mr. Boonpatararaksa is the first person charged with lèse-majesté since the new King, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, acceded the throne on 1 December 2016.
On 2 December 2016, Mr. Boonpatararaksa was arrested and charged under the lèse-majesté provision of the Criminal Code and under the Computer Crimes Act, after having shared a BBC news article on the new King and quoted content of the news on his private Facebook page.
Mr. Boonpatararaksa is currently in detention after his bail was revoked by an appeals court on 27 December, reportedly justified by the case’s sensitive matter and on public order and national security grounds. “I concerned about reports that the court hearing on his bail took place behind closed doors, in contradiction to the right to a fair and public hearing,” the Special Rapporteur said.
Earlier this month, on 1 February, his remand was extended for another 10 days. His next appearance before the court to hear whether there will be a new extension or not is on 10 February. No trial date has been confirmed.
In September 2016, the Thai Prime Minister revoked a previous order that granted military tribunals the authority to try lèse-majesté cases. All lèse-majesté acts committed after September 2016 will be tried at civilian courts.
However, actions committed before September 2016 continue to be brought before military tribunals, which have applied harsher penalties on lèse-majesté cases. In 2015, a military tribunal sentenced Phongsak Sribunpeng to 30 years, Ms. Sasiwimol Ptaomwongfa-ngam to 28 years and Mr. Thiansutham Suttijitseranee to 25 years imprisonment for criticizing the monarchy on Facebook.
“Lesè-majesté provisions have no place in a democratic country. I urge the authorities of Thailand to take steps to revise the country’s Criminal Code and to repeal the law that establishes a justification for criminal prosecution,” the human rights expert stressed.