Activist groups protest in defiance of Somyot verdict
Jan 25 - Groups of political activists protested in front of the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road after magazine editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was sentenced to 10-years in prison for lèse majesté.
On Wednesday, Somyot was found guilty for approving, as editor, two articles deemed insulting to the monarchy published in the magazine Voice of Taksin.
A group of about 50 anti- lèse majesté activists burned replicas of law text books, to convey the message that the law does not uphold basic rights, such as freedom of speech, the right to bail and the presumption of innocence.
"Article 112 or lèse majesté is problematic at many levels, whether in its ideology, enforcement or interpretation, plus the processes of the criminal court were also controversial," said Anusorn Unno, lecturer at the Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, Thammasat University, who joined the protest.
Organizing the protest, Kwanrawee Wangudom, a lecturer from Mahidol University's Institute for Human Rights and Peace Studies said lèse majesté has caused widespread public concern since Uncle SMS died in May last year, referring to Ampon Tangnoppakul who died in jail while serving a 20-year sentence for sending four SMS messages to the secretary of then PM Abhisit Vejjajiva.
“This activity has shown that the court has never been challenged by the public to this extent,” she said. “This is just one way for us to express our dissent against the injustice of the law.”
Meanwhile in Chiang Mai, a student activist group campaigned for Somyot’s release among fellow students at a graduation ceremony in Chiang Mai University. Wearing paper masks with Somyot’s face, dozens of students cheered at their graduates "S.O.M.Y.O.T FREE SOMYOT 112 112 112"
“The masks that we’re wearing do not mean we’re afraid to disclose our faces, but it’s a way to attract people’s attention and remind us of the victims of the draconian lèse majesté law,” said a student who asked not to be named.
“The graduation ceremony is attended by a lot of people. This should be an opportunity to conduct activities for a better society. The university is supposed to be open to ideas,” he said.
Yesterday Criminal Court chief Thawee Prachuablarb insisted the 10-year sentence on Somyot, five years for each count, is “reasonable” because it is in the middle between the minimum and maximum penalties under the lèse majesté law. The two controversial articles also were not academic, unlike those of Nitirat group, and were defamatory to the monarchy, he added.
Speaking about the European Union’s statement expressing “deep concern” about Somyot’s verdict, Thawee said Thailand’s courts also applied international principles in criminal procedure in the sense that the verdict is in accordance with national law.
In response to criticism that Article 112 is too harsh, he said the judiciary has no duty to look at the severity; this should rather be the power of the legislature.