UN expert studying Thai freedom of speech, lese majeste law

national January 12, 2012 00:00

By Pravit Rojanaphruk
The Nation

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A senior United Nations expert is on a private visit to Bangkok to discuss and monitor freedom of expression in the Kingdom, especially the controversial lese-majeste law.



Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, issued a statement last year expressing concern about Thailand’s lese-majeste law. 

 
He hopes he will be officially invited back later this year to examine the law and issues of expression.
 
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental element of any democratic society,” La Rue said, urging Thai authorities to do what they can to promote it.
 
La Rue met yesterday with members of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Human Rights and the Senate Committee on Human Rights, as well as with National Human Rights Commissioner Nirand Pitakwatchara. He told a group of reporters on Tuesday evening that liberation movements around the world, the Arab Spring for example, were a consequence of freedom of expression.
 
Asked how Thailand compared with other nations, La Rue answered cautiously: “I never compare nations,” he said, adding that it would be only valid to judge each nation against itself. 
 
He said he would not be commenting specifically on Thailand during this trip but hoped he could later come to the Kingdom to officially carry out his task of studying the Thai situation.
 
La Rue defended himself from critics – who said the issue of lese-majeste law was an internal affair that should be left to Thailand to sort out – by reminding them that Thailand is a member of the United Nations. “This is not intervention, because human rights is an international issue and a commitment [by all UN member states].”
 
La Rue urged Thai authorities and the public to also recognise: “The exercise of freedom and liberty begins with freedom of expression.”
 
His visit comes prior to the Nitirat group of law lecturers launching a public campaign to amend the lese-majeste law this Sunday at Thammasat University.
 
Another amendment proposed by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand was also put forward recently, although all political parties have since said they will not touch the lese-majeste law.