Amnesty’s silence on lese majeste

Marwaan Macan-Markar has written an important article for IPS on the (non-)response of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to ongoing lese majeste oppression in Thailand. Here is an extract:

AI [Amnesty International] broke its long silence on lese majeste when Darunee’s case began in June this year. It criticised the court for ordering a closed trial of the proceedings, which a judge on the bench justified as a “matter of national security.”

But AI stayed clear of raising concerns if the law infringed on the right to freedom of expression. Public statements delivered earlier by HRW [Human Rights Watch] have also studiously avoided this fundamental right.

“We have felt that working in a more private capacity than in a public way is the most appropriate and the most effective response on the lese majeste issue to date,” says Benjamin Zawacki, South-east Asia researcher for AI. “There is an implicit knowledge of the sensitivity of this law.”

“There are competing interests at stake; one is the right to freedom of expression. But you have an institution here that has played an important role in the protection of human rights in Thailand,” Zawacki explained in an interview. “We can see why the monarchy needs to be protected.”

The Bangkok-based Zawacki admitted, however, that the law has been abused. “The lese majeste law, as is currently applied in the last three years, has been used for the suppression of free speech for largely political purposes and not for the protection of the monarchy, for which the law was drafted,” he says.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has been more outspoken.

And, in one of his email circulars, Jiles Ungpakorn writes:

In my view, there is little point in writing letters to the Thai authorities about this. However, what would be more useful is to write to Amnesty International and demand that they start taking up and campaigning for lese majeste prisoners in Thailand.

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