Open letter to Yingluck on lese majeste

The early signs from the Yingluck government on lese majeste reform are far from promising. In response, 112 scholars have signed this open letter (in English and Thai).  The press release announcing the letter is provided below.

August 31, 2011

112 Scholars call for reviews of Article 112 and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act

International concern for human rights in Thailand has been made clear in an open letter to Thailand’s Prime Minister, Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra.

112 international scholars have signed a letter calling for reviews of lese majeste and computer crimes laws in Thailand. The letter draws attention to human rights issues and the political use of lese majeste (Article 112 of the Criminal Code) and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act.

The scholars call on Ms. Yingluck’s government to review the cases of those already charged and convicted, review the laws as they are currently used, and to release on bail those prisoners currently fighting their cases in the courts.

Since 2005, the use of the lese majeste law has seen a huge increase in the number of charges coming before Thai courts. Statistics from the Office of the Judiciary show a 1,500% increase. Many of these cases are related to the political conflict that has been constant since the 2006 military coup.

Dr. Kevin Hewison, Professor of Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Thai studies expert comments, “The political abuse of these laws has seen a precipitous deterioration of human rights in Thailand. Censorship of web sites, self-censorship in the media and many, many charges of disloyalty mean serious restrictions on freedom of expression.”

These draconian laws that mean that those convicted can spend up to 15 years in jail on each charge. Recent convictions have seen jail terms of 3 to 20 years. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, a webmaster for the independent Prachatai web site, returns to court this week, and faces charges that could mean 20 years in prison.

The concern expressed by these scholars from 15 countries and territories is heightened by recent decisions on prosecutions. Political activist, unionist and editor Mr. Somyos Preuksakasemsuk was detained for 84 days before being sent for prosecution on lese majeste charges. Like Mr. Somyos, American citizen Mr. Joe Gordon was held for 84 days before being charged for offences that are alleged to have taken place in the U.S.A. Bail has been refused in both cases.

Dr. Michael Connors, a Thai Studies specialist and Associate Professor at LaTrobe University observes: “The continued imprisonment without bail of those charged with lese majeste is a completely disproportionate and punitive response to an alleged crime.”

Academic freedom has been attacked. Charges and threats like those targeting Dr. Somsak Jeamteerasakul, an associate professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Thammasat University, mean that scholars are unwilling to speak freely.

After several years of political conflict in Thailand, the advent of a new government offers the first opportunity in several years to review the use of these oppressive laws.

Dr. Tyrell Haberkorn, an expert on human rights issues in Thailand and a Research Fellow at the Australian National University states: “Without the urgent review of Article 112 and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, with serious attention to possible repeal and immediate release of those currently imprisoned or detained awaiting trial, there is no hope for the consolidation of the rule of law or the development of a meaningful human rights regime in Thailand.”

For more information, please contact:

Kevin Hewison, khewison@unc.edu

Michael Connors, M.Connors@latrobe.edu.au

Tyrell Haberkorn, tyrell.haberkorn@anu.edu.au

About Andrew Walker