By Prach Panchakunathorn
Earlier on 9 December 2011, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated in a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland:
“We are concerned about the ongoing trials and harsh sentencing of people convicted of lèse majesté in Thailand and the chilling effect that this is having on freedom of expression in the country. Such harsh criminal sanctions are neither necessary nor proportionate and violate the country’s international human rights obligations.
We urge the Thai authorities to amend the laws on lèse majesté. In the meantime, guidelines should be issued to the police and public prosecutors to stop arresting and charging individuals under these vaguely worded laws. In addition to the disproportionate prison sentences being handed down by the Courts, we are also concerned about the extended periods that accused persons are being held in pre-trial detention.”
Thailand signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1996 (see here). The Covenant obliges signatory states to uphold the right to “hold opinions without interference” and the right to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds”. The Covenant only allows these rights to be restricted for the “respect of the rights or reputations of others” and the protection of “national security” or “public order” or “public health or morals”.
Some may argue that the lese-majeste laws are necessary to protect “national security”, and hence they abide by the Covenant. But the UN Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression has made clear that the Thai lese-majeste laws “do not meet these criteria”. “The laws”, the UN Rapporteur said, “are vague and overly broad, and the harsh criminal sanctions are neither necessary nor proportionate to protect the monarchy or national security”.
Some UN member states have also called for amendments to what many have called “the harshest lese-majeste laws in the world” (see here, here and here). In October, fourteen UN member states, including kingdoms like the UK, Norway and Sweden – as well as an ASEAN member state, Indonesia – called for Thailand to amend Article 112 and the Computer Crimes Act (see here). The United States was silent back then. Only after the trial of Amphon Tangnoppakul, or “Uncle SMS”, would the United States start to be “troubled by recent prosecutions and court decisions that are not consistent with international standards of freedom of expression” (See here). The US statement of concern came only days before the trial of a Thai-born US citizen, Joe Gordon. The European Union has also expressed a “deep concern” about the lese-majeste laws.
Prach Panchakunathorn received his B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) from Oxford University. He is now a graduate student in Philosophy at Cambridge University, UK.