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UN rights body voices concern about jump in lese majeste prosecutions and long jail terms for offend

Jun 13. 2017
Wichai Thepwong
Wichai Thepwong
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By The Nation

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THE United Nations human rights body expressed concern on Tuesday over the rise in the number of lèse majesté prosecutions in Thailand since 2014 and noted the severity of sentencing, including a 35-year jail term handed down last Friday against one individual.

A Thai military court found Wichai Thepwong guilty of posting 10 photos, videos and comments on Facebook deemed defamatory of the royal family. He was sentenced to 70 years in jail, but the sentence was reduced to 35 years after he confessed to the charges.

This is the heaviest sentence ever handed down under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, which is also known as the lèse majesté law. 

The previous heaviest sentences were handed down in 2015, when three people were jailed for between 25 and 30 years by military courts on the same charges. The offence carries a penalty of three to 15 years in jail for each charge of insulting the monarchy.

Between 2011 and 2013, 119 people were investigated for insulting the monarchy. Over the last three years, between 2014 and 2016, the figure has more than doubled to at least 285.

Statistics provided by Thai authorities show there has been a sharp fall in the number of people who have been able to successfully defend themselves against lèse majesté charges. 

From 2011-13, around 24 per cent of people charged with the offence walked free, but over the next three years, that number fell to about 10 per cent. And last year, that figure was only 4 per cent.

“While our Office appreciates the complexity and sensitivity of the issue surrounding lèse majesté in Thailand, we are deeply troubled by the high rate of prosecutions and the courts’ persistence in handing down disproportionate sentences for the offence,” spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville said in a statement. 

“All people have the right to freedom of expression, including when it comes to criticising public figures.”

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