|23.01.2013, Somyot arrives in a prison bus from Bangkok Remand Prison at the Criminal Court, 40 minutes behind schedule.|
For more information about the trial and a brief vitae of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk please see my blog post from 19th December 2012:
CLICK HERE! (english-language version)
KLICK' HIER! (deutschsprachige Version)
The report from inside the court room 704 with comment from Nicola Glass at the end of this post (English only)
On Wednesday, 23rd January 2013, after nearly two years in pre-trial custody, the judges of the Criminal Court sentenced the labour and human rights activist Somjot Prueksakasemsuk for the violation of article 112 of the Criminal Code to 11 years in prison (10 years for violation of article 112 + 1 year for a suspended jail term for defamation from 2009). While the judges were reading and constituting the verdict (for more than 50 minutes) Somyot had to stand the whole time although he is suffering from gout.
Also it should be mentioned that on 19. December 2012 the court arrangement assigned two new judges (two Deputy Director-Generals), one month before reading the verdict!
The four-judge panel emerged 90-minute later than initially scheduled and spent most of the time reading the two articles subject to the charge, published in February and March 2010 in the magazine in a column called "Kom Khwam Kid" written under the pseudonym Jit Polachan. The judges rebutted the arguments and opinions given by seven defence witnesses but put weight on prosecution witnesses, including Tongthong Chandrangsu, the Prime Minister's Office permanent secretary, security officers from the Internal Security Operating Command (Isoc), and librarians at the National Library of Thailand. Citing the prosecution witnesses, the court said anyone reading the two articles would easily understand that they referred to His Majesty the King. The court did not refer to defence arguments that since the writer, revealed to the court as Jakrapob Penkair, was not a defendant in the case, the editor of the magazine should also not be convicted. Also the defence arguments that Somyot was accused in the case because he was a dissident, active against the government of the day, and that the arrest was made when the political atmosphere was highly volatile. The defendant was known to express opinions opposite those the then government and he was accused of being part of a plan to topple the monarchy - a case which was later dropped as the Department of Special Investigation found there was not enough evidence to pursue it.
The court room 704 at the Criminal Court was packed with more than 150 observers from NGO's, embassies, Thai and international journalists, supporters like Chiranuch Premchaiporn, Pavin, Ajan Somsak, Thida Thavornseth, Rosmalin Tangnoppakul and others, close friends and his wife Sukunya (aka Joop) and his son Panitan (aka Tai). After reading the verdict many people were shocked, started crying and/or hugged each other. But again, outside the buildung just a handful of supporters gathered to show their support for this veteran activist. Again no major support from his "old friends" (maybe they were too busy with making money or securing their power). It is very sad to see how fast one can be forgotten or worse, deliberately ignored by all those people he was helping and supporting over all those years.
|In the holding cell area of the Criminal Court Somyot had to wait until guards escorted him to the court room.|
But he still has friends all over the world: National and international campaigns continues to deny Somyot's charge. On 17 January 2013, 381 supporters including 110 organizations and 271 individuals submitted an open letter to the PM Yingluck Shinawatra, Minister of Justice and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to share concern over the limitation of freedom of expression in Thailand as well as to demand a unconditional and immediate release for Somyot.
During the whole period of the trial Somyot was imprisoned. All twelve requests (the last on 8th January 2013) by his lawyers and his family for release on bail were dismissed by the court, sometimes
without giving any reasons.
|Entrance and registry of the holding cell area.|
This verdict is another proof, that the judiciary in Thailand became (since the coup in 2006) more and more a comfortable tool for the conservative elites and political groups/parties in their attempt to silence inconvenient members of the society like bloggers, webmasters and journalists (e.g. Chiranuch Premchaiporn), human rights and labour activists (e.g. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk), political reformers (e.g. Khana Nitirat Group) and political opponents (e.g. Da Torpedo or Yoswarit Chuklom). Of course the law about lèse majesté and it's draconic implementation is more than 100 years old and has been used against reformers, activists and opposition members again and again, but over the last years one can observe an inflationary rise of article 112 related criminal charges. Obviously the old and conservative elites in Thailand are getting more and more paranoid out of fear to loose all their wealth and privileges. So they are trying to create a climate of fear to silence all the reformers and activists in this country and to cut them off from their rising support from the common people. The whole situation in Thailand reminds me of McCarthy's witch hunt from 1947 to 1956 in the USA. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_McCarthy
A good example therefor was the draconic verdict against Khun Akong, a retired truck driver, suffering from cancer. The court ruled:
"The prosecutor could not expressly prove that the defendant sent the messages as mentioned in the charge ... but the grounds for his ability to introduce any eyewitness are the serious nature of the offence in question to such an extent that a person intending to commit it would conduct the commission in absence of others ... It needs to derive the guilt from the circumstantial evidence introduced by the prosecutor..." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ampon_Tangnoppakul
Another bizarre example is the Yoswarit Chuklom (aka Jeng Dokjik) case.
It has become almost routine in Thailand for judges to hand down jail sentences to those convicted of offending the country’s king. But an unusual ruling issued on Thursday appears to considerably broaden the interpretation of Thailand’s already restrictive lèse-majesté law. In sentencing a former protest leader to two years in prison, a court ruled that the defendant was liable not only for what he said, but also for what he left unsaid.
The criminal court’s ruling said the defendant, Yossawarit Chuklom, had not specifically mentioned the king when he gave a speech in 2010 to a large group of people protesting the military-backed government then in power.
But by making a gesture of being muzzled — placing his hands over his mouth — Mr. Yossawarit had insinuated that he was talking about the king, the court ruled.
“Even though the defendant did not identify His Majesty the king directly,” the court ruled, Mr. Yossawarit’s speech “cannot be interpreted any other way.”
This is indeed a new dimension of how arbitrarily lèse majesté is being applied here, on top of an already ambiguously written law (“insulting, defaming or threatening”): As many other lèse majesté (e.g. Ampon’s) or similar cases (e.g. Chiranuch’s) have shown, the principle is actually “in dubio contra reo” (“when in doubt, decide against the accused”) for many different reasons. Since the presumption of innocence doesn’t apply here, the prosecution is mostly not interested in the actual evidence (or the lack of in some cases), but rather in the “intent” of the alleged crime.
Outside the court his lawyer announced that Somyot will appeal against the court's decision. But if the appeal will be approved and finally successful remains highly questionable.
|Somyot's Lawyer Karom Polpornklang announced that Somyot will appeal the verdict.|
INOFFICIAL TRANSLATION OF THE VERDICT
Mr. Somyot Pruksakasemsuk Defendant
The plaintiff charged that in the period between the daytime of 15 February 2010 and the daytime of 15 March 2010, the defendant defamed, insulted and threatened His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Head of the Kingdom of Thailand, through the publication, distribution and dissemination in public of the Voice of Taksin magazine, Vol. 1, no. 15, issued in the latter fortnight of February 2010. The issue contains a column entitled ‘Khom Kwam Kid’ written by the user of the penname Jitra Polchan which features an article entitled ‘Plan for a Bloodbath, Fight between generations’ on pp. 45-47. The content of the article conveys the message that His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was the person who gave the order for the massacre in the 6 October 1976 event, and had been planning situations to slaughter a number of people mercilessly after the verdict to seize Thaksin Shinawatra’s assets. This is unfounded, and hence constitutes an act of defaming, insulting and threatening His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In the period between the daytime of 1 March 2010 and the daytime of 15 March 2010, the defendant defamed the monarch of the Kingdom of Thailand through the publication, distribution and dissemination in public in Bangkok and the provinces throughout Thailand the Voice of Taksin magazine, Vol. 1, no. 16, issued in the first fortnight of March 2010. The issue contains a column entitled ‘Khom Kwam Kid’ written by the user of the penname Jitra Polchan with an article entitled ‘6 October 2010’ on pp. 45-47. The content of the article conveys the message that His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was implicated in various conflicts and bloodshed in Thailand, and that His Majesty masterminded initiatives which dismantled pro-democratic movements. This information is unfounded and thus it constitutes an act of defaming, insulting and threatening His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Court was requested to prosecute the defendant under Sections 58, 91 and 112 of the Penal Code, and to add the term of imprisonment from Red Case no. O1078/2552 previously ordered by the Criminal Court to any term of imprisonment passed on the defendant in this case.
The defendant denied the charge, but admitted that he was the same person as the defendant in the previous case where the plaintiff had requested the term of imprisonment to be added to any passed in this case
In considering the testimony, the plaintiff’s evidence and the defendant’s evidence, this case raises the question as to whether the defendant has actually committed the offence as charged. While the plaintiff charged that the defendant committed the offence of defaming, insulting and threatening His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of the Kingdom of Thailand through the publication, distribution and dissemination of the Voice of Taksin magazines which constitutes a violation of Section 112 of the Penal Code. Against this the defendant contended that the Printing Act of 2007 abolished the Printing and Publishing Act of 1941 and hence the defendant was not guilty of a violation under Section 2, Paragraph 2 of the Penal Code. This means the defendant was not guilty of a violation of the 1941 Printing and Publishing Act only, but his act in violation of Section 112 of the Penal Code as charged was not absolved by the implications of the law as such. In response to the defendant’s plea that he was not the writer of the articles brought to court by the plaintiff, the plaintiff has prosecuted the defendant for defaming, insulting and threatening His Majesty through the publication, distribution and dissemination of the Voice of Taksin magazine. The defendant’s plea, therefore, does not concern the prosecuted act and hence is not an issue in the case that the Court will consider. The Court, thus, will not proceed according to Section 104, Paragraph 1 of the Civil Procedure Code, in addition to Section 15 of the Criminal Procedure Code. As to whether the defendant has committed an act in breach of Section 112 of the Penal Code, the ‘Khom Kwam Kid’ articles in both issues of the Voice of Taksin magazine include content which does not mention names, but was written with the intention to link past events together. When events of the past are brought together, it can be implied that they refer to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The contents of the articles are thus acts of defaming, insulting and threatening His Majesty the King. That the defendant published, distributed and disseminated the articles is hence indicative of the intent to defame, insult and threaten His Majesty in violation of Section 112 of the Penal Code. The publication of two issues at different times constitutes two different offences.
The Court rules that the defendant is found guilty of violating Section 112 of the Penal Code. As his acts were committed on different occasions, he shall be prosecuted according to each offence. In accordance with Section 91 of the Penal Code, the defendant is sentenced to a five-year term of imprisonment for each offence, totalling a ten-year term for two offences. By adding to a one-year term of imprisonment from the previous Red Case no. O1078/2552, the defendant is sentenced to 11 years in prison.
|Guards with shotguns and rifles were securing the access way when the prison bus arrived.|
|After the verdict.|
|On his way to the prison transporter.|
|Somyot was driven back to Klong Prem Prison in an altered Pick-up truck. In Germany we use them to transport K-9 units!|
|Supporters at the main entrance of the Criminal Court.|
Nicola Glass's Report From Court Room 704 and Commentary
Thailand´s most draconian law - Unjust verdict against Somyot PrueksakasemsukBy Nicola Glass (written on 23 January 2013) - A retrospective
The very moment the judges announced the verdict the audience in the packed court room was stunned. After that there were shock, and disgust, and some people even had tears in their eyes.
What happened during the morning hours on 23 January 2013 at the Criminal Court in Bangkok? Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a prominent labour activist, human rights defender and editor in Thailand was sentenced to ten years in prison. Let´s be very clear about one thing: This man is not a murderer, not a thief, he didn´t do anything wrong at all. Instead, he is well known as a man who has spent his whole life supporting workers´ rights and helping to establish democratic trade unionism in Thailand. He is also an outspoken critic who has denounced military coups and political injustice.
On 23 January 2013 Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was found guilty of violating Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lèse-majesté-law, by publishing two articles in 2010 that were deemed insulting to the royal family. Both articles were written by another author under a pseudonym. In addition Somyot was also handed a one-year-sentence for a separate defamation case. His wife, Sukunya Prueksakasemsuk, and his lawyer said they would appeal the verdict.
The 51-year-old activist has become one of the latest victims of Thailand´s controversial lèse-majesté-law. This law is considered to be the most draconian of its kind in the world. Academics and activists have noted a sharp increase of lèse-majesté-cases in recent years, particularly after the military coup in September 2006 that ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Critics argue this law is increasingly being used as a political weapon to create a climate of fear and to use arbitrary charges to silence oppositional voices or differing opinions and to criminalize and restrict freedom of expression and press freedom in Thailand.
Somyot Prueksakasemsuk had been arrested on 30th April 2011, just a couple of days after launching a petition campaign to collect 10.000 signatures required for a parliamentary review of the lèse-majesté-law. Bail requests by his family and lawyer were denied twelve times, and Somyot, married with two children, has remained in prison ever since. His son, Panitan, even went on a hunger strike for 112 hours in front of the Criminal Court in February 2012 to protest against the judges´ continuous refusal to release his father on bail. “I want them to understand that the point we want to make there is that my Dad deserves the right to bail“, Panitan had told me back there in February last year.
The draconian verdict handed down to Somyot caused an outcry among human rights organisations while the European Union and United Nations expressed „deep concern“ about the ruling: „The conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of Somyot sends the wrong signals on freedom of expression in Thailand. The court´s decision is the latest indication of a disturbing trend in which lese-majeste-charges are used for political purposes“, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/Media.aspx?IsMediaPage=true&LangID=E).
And the EU delegation in Bangkok noted: „The verdict seriously undermines the right to freedom of expression and press freedom. At the same time it affects Thailand´s image as a free and democratic society.“(http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/thailand/press_corner/all_news/news/2013/20130123_01_en.htm)
„The courts seem to have adopted the role of chief protector of the monarchy at the expense of free expression rights“, said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW). „The court´s ruling appears to be more about Somyot´s strong support for amending the lèse majesté-law than about any harm incurred by the monarchy.“ Human Rights Watch added „that Thai authorities used Somyot´s pretrial detention as a means to punish him for his views.“ According to HRW, Somyot has told the organisation that he was compelled to appear in shackles in hearings in four different provinces for the same alleged offense, even though all the witnesses resided in Bangkok. (http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/01/23/thailand-editor-convicted-insulting-monarchy).
The organisation Frontline Defenders said in a statement it „believes that this verdict and excessively harsh sentencing is solely motivated by Somyot Prueksakasemsuk´s legitimate and peaceful work as a prominent labour and human rights defender in Thailand, and urges the Thai authorities to ensure its reversal.“ (http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/21368)
„This is a regressive decision – Somyot has been found guilty simply for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and should be released immediately“, said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International´s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director. „We urge the authorities to release Somyot and all other prisoners of conscience without conditions.“ (http://www.amnesty.or.th/en/component/k2/item/269-ข่าวด่วนประเทศไทย-ปล่อยตัวผู้พิทักษ์สิทธิมนุษยชนที่ถูกคุมขังในคดีหมิ่นพระบรมเดชานุภาพ)
Last but not least there was something quite interesting to observe at the court as well: Indeed, several of Somyot´s supporters have shown up, bravely raising their voices against the ruling. However, if someone, like me, who lives in this country for a couple of years now, it has come as a surprise to learn that only very few leading representatives or ordinary members of the so-called „red shirt“ movement were present - at least during the last two court sessions I have observed.
I am talking of the very same movement – though apparently more and more fragmented and divided into several groups by now – that took to the streets in 2009 and 2010, protesting against the unelected government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and affirming to champion democracy, human rights values and freedom in Thailand. When the court handed down its verdict to Somyot (who was the leader of the red shirt faction „24th June Democracy group“) by citing a law which is violating these very principles of a democratic, open, and free society the red shirts were claiming to fight for, where have those masses of demonstrators been on 23rd January? Even more, the red shirts brought a government to power in 2011 led by Thaksin´s sister Yingluck Shinawatra, that remains for several reasons reluctant to make any attempts of modernizing or amending the lèse-majesté-law. It is difficult to say in which direction the country is heading.
Meanwhile, the newspaper "Bangkok Post" reported that "the Criminal Court chief judge insists the 10-year-prison-sentence handed down to Voice of Taksin editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk for lese-majeste-crimes is reasonable." The judge also "told critics to offer their opinions in good faith and without bias, or risk being prosecuted for contempt of court." (http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/politics/332501/court-plays-down-harshness-of-somyot-sentence)