NEW YORK—Charges of “sedition” levied against veteran Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk for Facebook posts criticizing the military are an unjustifiable attempt to punish a journalist for his critical expression, PEN America said today.

On August 1, Pravit Rojanaphruk posted on his Facebook page that Thailand’s Technology Crime Suppression Division had charged him with violating Article 116 of Thailand’s Criminal Code. Article 116, the “sedition” law, offers a criminal penalty of up to seven years in prison for acts or statements deemed seditious, including those designed “to raise unrest and dissatisfaction . . . in a manner likely to cause disturbance in the country.” In the post, Pravit indicated that he is facing sedition charges for five previous Facebook posts and has insisted that he has “criticized the military regime in good faith.”

Pravit is a senior reporter for Kaosod English and a journalist with more than two decades of experience. Pravit has been detained incommunicado twice for criticizing the military junta, in 2014 and 2015. In 2016, he was prevented from travelling abroad to a UNESCO-hosted event to celebrate World Press Freedom Day.

“Charges of sedition are a clear attempt to browbeat Pravit into remaining silent rather than expressing his critical views of the military,” said James Tager, Free Expression Programs Manager at PEN America. “They are also an absurd and unjustifiable attempt to criminalize free expression. PEN America calls on the Thai government to drop these charges immediately, and to evaluate the appropriateness of a law which allows a potential penalty of up to seven years for a Facebook post.”

Since the Thai military junta took power in a 2014 coup, human rights advocates and observers have noted a dramatic expansion in the use of laws such as Article 116 to target or punish those criticizing or dissenting from the military regime. A May 2017 report from Thai NGO Thai Lawyers for Human Rights noted that since establishment of the military junta, 69 people had been charged with sedition primarily for peaceful acts of resistance.

Besides Pravit, in the past several days other figures seen as critical of the military junta have been charged with crimes or been otherwise targeted. Late last month, Thai politician Watana Muangsook was charged with sedition for posting several Facebook messages in support of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. On July 31, police accused human rights lawyer Sirikan Charoensiri of making false charges against police officers, relating to Sirikan’s refusal in 2015 to allow police to search her car without a warrant. On July 29, Thai activist Wuthipong Kachatathamakul, whom the military junta has accused of stoking dissent, was abducted in neighboring Laos and has not been seen since.

PEN America has previously raised concerns over the deteriorating state of free expression in Thailand, including the 2016 amendments to the Computer Crime Act and the rising use of the country’s lese-majeste law under the country’s military government.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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