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Lese Majeste

Top judge rejects criticism of court's lese majeste ruling

The Criminal Court's chief judge yesterday countered criticism by foreign organisations after the editor of a magazine popular among the red shirts was sentenced to 10 years in jail on lese majeste offences.

Thawee Prachuablarb said Voice of Taksin editor Somyos Preuksakasemsuk had published articles that insulted His Majesty the King, adding that the articles did not present a fair or academic viewpoint.

He said the lese majeste law reflected Thailand's culture, which is different from those of other countries. "It is narrow-minded to describe the court as barbaric or as an organisation that protects the monarchy," he said. The chief judge welcomed honest and fair criticism of the judiciary, but warned that the court might take legal action against those who unfairly attack it.

The United Nations and other international organisations have joined a growing chorus of criticism against the court's ruling on Wednesday. They include the European Union, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa).

From Geneva, Pillay issued a statement expressing deep concern over the "harsh sentencing", saying that "this represents a setback for the protection and promotion of human rights in Thailand".

"The conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of Somyos sends the wrong signals on freedom of expression in Thailand. The court's decision is the latest indication of a disturbing trend in which lese majeste charges are used for political purposes," she said.

Washington-based Freedom House denounced the verdict against Somyos and called on the government to amend the laws to protect free expression in accordance with international rights standards. In Freedom House's latest annual survey, which came out last week, Thailand was listed as "partly free". The organisation also expressed concern about the state of Somyos's health in detention.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders issued a statement stating it was "outraged" by the 10-year sentence.

Thai Journalists Association president Chavarong Limpattamapanee took a different view, saying the court's ruling in Somyos's case should not be linked with the issue of freedom of expression.

He said the Constitution ensures Thai people's freedom of expression, but not without limit or exception.

"Freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to accuse or criticise anybody. And according to Thai law, the monarchy is an institution above politics. Whether the … penalties are too harsh or whether the legal processes are suitable is another issue," he said.

Worapol Promigaburt, an independent academic and adviser to Red News newspaper, yesterday submitted a letter to Justice Minister Pol General Pracha Promnok via the Pheu Thai Party asking for Somyos to be released on bail.


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