The United Nations yesterday called for the Thai government to immediately free suspects languishing in jail for untenable periods and to amend the "vague and broad" lese-majeste law to bring it in line with international human rights standards.
“We call for the immediate release of all those who have been jailed or held in prolonged pre-trial detention for the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Tuesday.
The agency was appalled by the shockingly disproportionate prison terms handed down over the past few months in lese-majeste cases in Thailand, she said in a statement.
Last week, the military court handed down severe sentences to two people violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, known as the lese-majeste law. They face 30 and 28 years in jail.
“These are the heaviest sentences we have recorded since 2006, when we began documenting cases of individuals prosecuted for lese-majeste offences for exercising the right to freedom of expression,” she said.
“We also urge the military government to amend the vague and broad lese-majeste law to bring it in line with international human rights standards.
“Until the law is amended, such laws should not be used arbitrarily to curb debate on critical issues of public interest, even when it involves criticism of heads of state or government,” she said.
There has been a sharp increase in the number of such cases, she said.
Since the May 2014 military coup, at least 40 individuals have been convicted or remain in pre-trial detention for lese-majeste offences, under both Section 112 and the Computer Crimes Act of 2007.
In early May 2014, prior to the coup, there were five people in prison for lese-majeste-related convictions. Also among those convicted in recent months are people with psycho-social disabilities.
“We are also alarmed at the spike in harsh prison terms delivered in such cases by the military courts, which themselves fail to meet international human rights standards, including the right to a fair trial,” she said.
Observers have been barred from entry and in many instances there is no option for appeal, she said.
International law requires that trials of civilians by military courts should be exceptional, and military trials must afford all due process guarantees provided for under international human rights law, she said.