As prison term ends, lese majeste convict Somyot pledges to go back to fighting for democracy
DISCHARGED from prison after serving time for lese majeste, labour rights activist and former editor of a pro-red shirt magazine Somyot Prueksakasemsuk vowed to continue his struggle for democracy and to install an elected civilian government.
“Participating in political activities is a civic duty. It is an expression. And since we are in the Thailand 4.0 age now, people are even more politically active,” the long-time activist said. “So, I will join with any movement that demands elections. That’s surely a good thing. And I support groups calling for elections. Government, do not try to use any trick to delay it.”
This month marks the fourth anniversary of the 2014 coup led by General Prayut Chan-o-cha and a major anti-junta demonstration has also been planned. Somyot said the climate now is similar to the 1992 Black May period, when a riot against a military-backed government ended in a bloody crackdown.
Unless something is done to change the course Thailand is on, another demonstration for democracy could break out, said Somyot who was also an active protester in the 1992 incident. The movement was the backlash to a coup that was driving the country backwards as well as damaging the economy, he added.
“The more dictatorial force is used, the worse it is for human rights, democracy and the government itself. It only leads to more conflict,” he said.
Against the backdrop of political conflict, culminating in a bloody crackdown on the red-shirt protesters in 2010, Somyot was labelled as belonging to the “anti-monarchy camp” by the then-government of Abhisit Vejjajiva. He was detained without charge for 19 days in a military camp under a state of emergency.
Somyot Prueksakasemsuk holding the three-finger gesture, the symbol resistant of the coup-installed regime mimicking the blockbuster film "The Hunger Game": Photo: Sa-nguan Khumrungroj
Somyot was arrested again on April 30, 2011 following his campaign to collect 10,000 signatures for a petition calling for an amendment to Article 112, or lese majeste law, of the Penal Code.
Article 112 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 authorities charged editor Somyot for publishing two articles in Voice of Taksin that were written by Jit Pollachan, a pseudonym of an exiled politician. The writer has never been charged under Article 112.
The initial sentence handed down was 10 years in prison for the two lese majeste magazine articles. It was reduced to six years last year by the Supreme Court on the grounds that he did not write the article and in view of his advancing age. He turns 55 this year.
However, Somyot had to serve another year in jail over a charge for defaming General Saprang Kalayanamitr.
Groups dedicated to human rights have pointed to wide-ranging examples of the lese majeste law being misused for political purposes, rather than to protect the monarchy.
According to iLaw, a non-profit organisation monitoring rights and freedom cases and legislation, at least 94 people have been charged with lese majeste since the 2014 coup.
Scholars, non-governmental organisations and international organisations have campaigned without success for the amendment of Article 112 and the release of perpetrators.
The authorities frame lese majeste cases as security matters. With the charge, people are detained for a long time before getting their day in court. Somyot applied for bail 16 times and was rejected on all occasions.
Somyot’s freedom yesterday was welcomed warmly by fellow activists, friends and family members, including his two children. Plainclothes officers reportedly also observed the scene.
Somyot said that he had kept a journal recording hardships and infringements of basic rights behind bars and that he hoped to return to editing, unfazed by the fact that it had led to his imprisonment.