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Activist jailed for Lese Majeste

Human rights groups decry 10-year jail term

After spending 21 months in detention - with 12 bail requests having been denied - Voice of Taksin magazine editor and key red-shirt member Somyos Prueksakasemsuk was sentenced to 10 years in prison yesterday for publishing two articles deemed offensive to His Majesty the King and King Rama I.

This is the first time a magazine editor has been sentenced to jail for violating the lese majeste law, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment.

The case attracted wide international attention. About 150 people, including supporters and observers from foreign agencies and embassies, including those of the US, UK, Germany, France and Finland, were present.

The four judges ruled that although the two articles never directly mentioned the name of HM the King or Rama I, their context suggested the fictitious name of "Luang Naruebarn" was in fact a reference to HM the King.

"The character of Luang Naruebarn doesn't exist in reality but it can be construed as to whom it [referred]," one of the four presiding judges stated. "The intention was to make [readers] understand that the person was HM the King," said the judge, adding that HM the King had been falsely linked in the two articles to political violence "contrary to the facts".

Another one-year imprisonment term was added, making it a total of 11, as Somyos had earlier been given a one-year suspended sentence for defaming General Saphrang Kalayanamit, who was involved in the 2006 coup that overthrew then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Barefoot and in heavy iron shackles, Somyos was composed after hearing the verdict as his lawyers tried to seek bail and appeal the verdict. Somyos was quickly whisked away after the chairperson of the red-shirt Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD), Thida Tavornsaet Tojirakarn, approached to console him and some of his supporters started to cry.

Minutes before the judges arrived, Somyos told The Nation: "What is important is liberty. Without liberty we ought not to live any longer because our human dignity has been degraded."

He added that the denial of bail against him - 12 times over the past 21 months before the verdict was handed down - was tantamount to "torture" and a way to coerce him to confess.

His wife, Sukanya Prueksaka-

semsuk said the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) had never issued any statement regarding the incarceration of her husband.

Somyos has never admitted that the two articles defamed HM the King. He testified earlier that the writer behind the two articles was red-shirt co-leader and former PM's Office minister Jakrapob Penkair, who is now in exile abroad.

The European Union (EU) delegation in Bangkok issued a short statement soon after the verdict yesterday, saying it was "deeply concerned". It added that: "The verdict seriously undermines the right to freedom of expression and press freedom. At the same time, it affects Thailand's image as a free and democratic society."

New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement saying the verdict was harsh and "will further chill freedom of expression in Thailand".

"The court seems to have adopted the role of chief protector of the monarchy at the expense of free expression rights," said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. "The court's ruling appears to be more about Somyos' strong support for amending the lese majeste law than about any harm incurred to the monarchy."

Prior to his arrest, Somyos launched a campaign to amend the lese majeste law.

London-based Amnesty International, meanwhile, has issued a statement calling for the release of Somyos, whom the organisation regarded as a "prisoner of conscience". Amnesty described the verdict as "a serious setback for freedom of expression in Thailand".

It called for the lese majeste law to be suspended and revised to comply with Thailand's human rights obligations.

"This is a regressive decision - Somyos has been found guilty simply for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and should be released immediately," said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International's deputy Asia-Pacific director.

"We urge the authorities to release Somyos and all other prisoners of conscience without conditions. They should also grant Somyos reparations for the time he has spent in pre-trial detention."

Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign, a labour group, issued a statement condemning the verdict, saying it violates international human-rights law. Prior to being a red-shirt activist, Somyos spent years working as a labour-rights activist.


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