Thailand: Preposterous 25-year prison sentence for criticizing royal family amid plans to lift martial law
The conviction and sentencing this morning of a Thai businessman to 25 years in prison for posting messages allegedly critical of the royal family on Facebook is preposterous and shows the urgent need for Thailand to amend its outdated lèse majesté law, said Amnesty International.
A Thai military court found Theinsutham Suthijittaseranee, 58, guilty on all five counts of posting messages deemed to be defamatory of Thailand’s royal family between July and November of 2014.
The sentence comes the same day that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha issued a request to Thailand’s King to allow the lifting of martial law. The interim constitution gives the Prime Minister unchallenged authority to replace martial law with new legislation he claims is necessary for maintaining national security.
Since martial law came into force in Thailand on 20 May 2014, hundreds of people have been arbitrarily detained and dozens dragged before military courts for peacefully exercising their rights to assembly and expression.
“The lifting of martial law will not improve the human rights situation in Thailand if it is replaced with another repressive law. Instead, Thailand should reinstate the rule of law and constitutional protections for human rights which the 2014 coup steamrolled over,” said Rupert Abbott, Deputy Director for the Asia Pacific Program at Amnesty International.
“The sentence against Theinsutham Suthijittaseranee is one of the harshest we have seen in a long time, which sends worrying signs that the Thai authorities are tightening the vice on anyone they do not agree with.
“It is appalling that in the 21st century people are being imprisoned for decades for criticizing the monarchy. Peacefully expressing an opinion is not a crime. Theinsutham must be released immediately and the lèse majesté law should be scrapped or amended so it complies with Thailand’s human rights obligations.”
The military court sentenced Theinsutham Suthijittaseranee to 50 years imprisonment but halved it in recognition of his guilty plea. He has no right to appeal.
The businessman was detained without charge by the military under martial law powers and during the five days he was held arbitrarily military officers interrogated him until he confessed to the alleged crimes. He was not allowed to see a lawyer or members of his family.
On 22 December 2014, Theinsutham was officially charged with five counts of violating Article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code (the provision for lèse majesté) and taken to Bangkok Remand Prison. Subsequent bail requests were denied.
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