THAILAND: Students Sentenced for Insulting Monarchy
On February 23, 2015 student activists Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and Pornthip Munkong, 26, were each sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating Thailand’s “lèse-majesté” law. The charge of “lèse-majesté” criminalizes insulting the monarchy under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, and is commonly used to silence peaceful dissent. According to reports, there has been a considerable rise in arrests, trials, and convictions relating to lèse majesté cases since the military coup of May 22, 2014. The case against Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong relates to their involvement in staging a play about a fictional monarch, the “Wolf Bride” (‘Jao Sao Ma Pa’) at Thammasat University in October 2013. The pair have been in detention since their arrest in mid-August 2014. After being repeatedly refused bail, the pair plead guilty in December 2014 in order to reduce their sentences. PEN considers Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong to be imprisoned in violation of Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party, and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.
The poem ‘Friend’ by Patiwat Saraiyaem has been translated into English and published on Prachatai.
A fable that Pornthip Munkhong is writing from prison now has four parts, and is available in English translation here.
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The following case information is provided by The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC):
Patiwat Saraiyaem, age 23, a fifth year student and an activist in the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at Khon Kaen University, was arrested on August 14, 2014 in Khon Kaen province and is being held in the Bangkok Remand Prison. Pornthip Munkhong, age 25, a graduate of the Faculty of Political Science at Ramkhamhaeng University and an activist, was arrested on August 15, 2014 at the Hat Yai Airport, and is being held in the Central Women’s Prison. They have been held without bail, despite numerous requests, since their arrests and since being formally charged on October 25 with one count of violation of Article 112.
Article 112 of the Criminal Code stipulates that, “Whoever defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The use of Article 112 is highly politicized and has frequently been used as a method of silencing dissenting voices, particularly in moments of regime crisis. Although this measure has been part of the Criminal Code since its last revision in 1957, there has been an exponential increase in the number of complaints filed since the September 19, 2006 coup; this increase has been further multiplied following the May 22, 2014 coup.
The case against Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkhong is related to their participation in the performance of a play, ‘The Wolf Bride’ (Jao Sao Ma Pa) at Thammasat University in October 2013 on the fortieth anniversary of the October 14, 1973 people’s uprising. At the time of their arrests, the AHRC noted that their arrests for exercising their freedom of expression in a theatre performance was an indication of the ongoing criminalization of thought and expression in Thailand following the May 22, 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Their continued detention is a daily reminder of the deepening human rights crisis put in motion by the coup. In this case, as well as other freedom of expression cases since the coup, the manner in which the two activists were charged more than a year after the alleged crime suggests that the past has become an open catalogue of acts and speech which can be criminalized in retrospect.
After nearly seven months of escalating political violence in Thailand, a military coup d’état led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha was declared on May 22, 2014. The coup has imposed martial law and a curfew, dissolved the Senate—the only remaining national government body with elected members – and taken on wide-ranging executive and legislative powers. Political gatherings have been banned and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has imposed strict censorship of the internet and control of the media.
Several television and radio stations were shut down in the early days after the coup though most have since resumed broadcasting. Facebook was briefly blocked by the Information Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry at the request of the military on May 28, although the military denied this. However, on June 9, Telenor, the Norwegian telecoms company which runs Thai operator DTAC acknowledged that it had implemented an official request to block the site on May 28. An interview with an anonymous journalist describing how journalists are self-censoring may be read here. On May 25, 2014 the NCPO issued order no 37 assigning jurisdiction to military courts for offences against the royal family (articles 107-112 of the Penal Code) and most offences against internal security (articles 113-118) as well as offences stipulated by orders of the NCPO. According to iLaw (Internet Dialogue on Legal Reform), which monitors freedom of expression in Thailand, 669 people have been summoned and 376 have been arrested under Article 112 since the coup.
Since the coup, scores of protesters and critics of the coup, including prominent politicians and academics, have been summoned to report to the army and at least a hundred have been arrested. They include journalists Thanapol Eawsakul, editor of the hard-hitting political magazine Fa Diew Kan (Same Sky) and Pravit Rojanaphruk, senior reporter of The Nation, who were detained on May 23 and 24 after being summoned by the military. Rojanaphruk was released after a week, and an interview with him after his release may be read here.
Thirty-five prominent academics were summoned on May 25, including the following scholars who advocate democracy and amendments to the lèse majesté law: Thammasat lecturers Somsak Jeamteerasakul, Worachet Pakeerut and Sawatri Suksri (the latter two of the Nitirat or Enlightened Jurists group); Suda Rangupan, a former Chulalongkorn University lecturer; and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a professor of Southeast Asian studies at Kyoto University. Mr Pavin, a frequent contributor to the Bangkok Post and other media, said by telephone from Japan that he would not turn himself in. It is thought the others have also chosen not to report to the authorities. Refusal to respond to a summons is a crime carrying a maximum prison term of two years and/or a 40,000 baht (US $1,300) fine.
UN human rights mechanisms have repeatedly clarified that criminal defamation and insult laws, including lèse-majesté laws, are incompatible with international standards on free expression. In 2011, the then UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue called on Thailand to reform its lèse-majesté laws. He said, “The threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”
Write A Letter
Please send appeals:
- Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of students Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong, as they are held for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in contravention of Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party;
- Reiterating serious concern for the safety of writers, academics, and activists in Thailand, who are at risk of attack and imprisonment solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions;
- Urging the authorities to amend the Criminal Code, in particular the lèse-majesté law, to ensure that it meets Thailand’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression.
Send Your Letter To
Appeals should be sent to:
Leader of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)
General Prayuth Chan-ocha
Royal Thai Army Headquarters,
Rachadamnoen Nok Road,
Thailand Fax: (+66-2) 226 1838
Salutation: Dear General
Please send messages of support to Pornthip Munkhong and Patiwat Saraiyaem in prison:
Central Women's Prison
33/3 Ngamwongwan Road
Lad Yao, Chatuchak
Bangkok Remand Prison
33 Ngamwongwan Road
Lad Yao, Chatuchak