A Thai activist and former journalist received a 10-year-long jail term after he was convicted of insulting the country’s royal family—drawing condemnation from human rights groups and the United Nations.
Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was convicted under Thailand’s harsh lese majeste laws after he published two articles critical of the royal family in the Voice of Taksin magazine, according to the U.N. Lese-majesty means “injured majesty” and is an offense against a ruler of a state, usually monarchs.
“The conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of Somyot sends the wrong signals on freedom of expression in Thailand,” said Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement.
“The court’s decision is the latest indication of a disturbing trend in which lese-majesty charges are used for political purposes.”
According to Reuters, the articles criticized a fictional character who was said to represent the king.
“The accused is a journalist who had a duty to check the facts in these articles before publishing them. He knew the content defamed the monarchy but allowed their publication anyway,” a judge ruled, according to the news agency.
Human rights experts have described the law as anachronistic and said it is used generally to quash dissent voices and press freedom.
“The courts seem to have adopted the role of chief protector of the monarchy at the expense of free expression rights,” stated Brad Adams, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “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.”
Somyot is a supporter of the “Red Shirt” movement that is loyal to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Pillay’s office said that his detention was arbitrary and called on the Thai government to take steps in releasing him.
“Activists, journalists and academics play a dynamic role in fostering Thailand’s human rights culture,” Pillay said. “This reflects positively on Thai society, but cases such as Somyot’s risk reversing the important progress made by Thailand.”
According to The Associated Press, Somyot published the articles in 2010 but was arrested in the following year only after he launched a petition to revoke the lese-majesty laws. The original author of the articles was not charged with any crime and is living in Cambodia.
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