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UN rights agency concerned over lese majeste cases

THE UNITED Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has raised concerns over the tough prosecution and sentencing of student and political activists under the lese majeste law, calling for an amendment of article 112 of the Penal Code.

Such measures, stepped up by the junta, are adding to the larger pattern of increasing restrictions on freedom of expression in Thailand, said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson of the UNHCHR.

Since the May 22 coup, at least 13 new lese majeste cases have been opened for investigation while other cases where charges had previously not been laid, have been revived, she said in a statement.

Two university students were arrested last week for participating in a play in October 2013 that depicted a fictional monarch who was manipulated by his adviser. The arrests followed a number of convictions and harsh sentences in lese majeste cases, including that of Plutnarin Thanaboriboonsuk, who was also charged under the Computer Crime Act over messages he posted on Facebook.

He was sentenced on July 31 to 15 years in prison, reduced from a sentence of 30 years because of his guilty plea.

The sentence came less than two months after charges were laid on June 16, even though the investigation had remained pending for more than two years.

In another case, on August 14, Yuthasak Kangwanwongsakul, a taxi driver, was sentenced to two years and six months in jail under the lese majeste laws for a conversation he had with a passenger.

"We are concerned that more charges may be filed and that more harsh sentences may be issued in the coming weeks," Shamdasni said.

Article 112 of the Penal Code says whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.

The UN rights body has called since last year for amendments to the lese majeste law to address concerns related to implementation of the law.

In 2011, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion also urged the amendment of Thailand's lese majeste law, stating that Section 112 was too vague and prescribes long maximum sentences that are contrary to permissible restrictions on freedom of expression under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified.


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