Thai editor sentenced to 11 years over defamatory articles
Somyot was sentenced to 5 years for each count of violating Article 112 of the Penal Code, otherwise known as the lese majeste law, which prohibits acts of insulting, defaming or threatening Thailand's king, heir apparent or Regent. He received an additional year for a previous suspended sentence on a separate defamation case in 2009.
The court dismissed Somyot's defence that he was not the writer of the said articles, and jailed him for publishing the articles as editor of the magazine Voice of Taksin magazine, which supported ousted prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.
This decision extends the responsibility of editors over content of their publication, if found to be violating the Penal Code. Sentencing for liability on content written by someone else is similar to the judgement received in May 2012 by Chiranuch Premchaiporn, who was found guilty of violating the Computer-related Crimes Act of 2007. She received a two-year suspended sentence "for not being fast enough" in taking down lese majeste comments in an online forum.
Somyot's lawyers argued that Thailand's Printing Act of 2007 (B.E. 2550) relieved editors of liability for such content, and instead put the responsibility on the writers. However, the court said that this does not absolve him of any wrong doing under the Penal Code.
Ironically, charges have not been filed against the writer of the articles, who was revealed by Somyot during the trial to be Thaksin adviser Jakraphob Penkair. The court said that although the king's name was not mentioned in the articles, the content of the articles could lead readers to identify the king as the person being referred to.
A similar verdict for implicit defamation of the monarchy was handed down last week in the case of red-shirt leader Yossawarit Chuklom, who was sentenced to two years in prison for a speech made during a protest in 2010. According to a New York Times article on the Yossawarit case, the court ruled that "Even though the defendant did not identify His Majesty the King directly" the speech "cannot be interpreted in any other way".
Somyot's sentencing came after 20 months of remand detention of Somyot, during which all his appeals for bail were denied by authorities fearing that he would jump bail. SEAPA Executive Director Gayathry Venkiteswaran described the sentence as "disproportionate" noting that Somyot was not the person who wrote the article.
Gayathry added that "putting the liability on the editor also highlights the problematic application of the lese majeste law," as pointed out by international human rights bodies.
WHAT OTHER IFEX MEMBERS ARE SAYING:
Editor convicted for insulting monarchy (Human Rights Watch, 23 January 2013)
"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. "The court's ruling appears to be more about Somyot's strong support for amending the lese majeste law than about any harm incurred by the monarchy."
Editor gets 11-year jail term in affront to media freedom (Reporters Without Borders, 23 January 2013)
"This sentence is nothing less that a political manoeuvre designed to silence a government critic," Reporters Without Borders said. "The fact that the complaint about the supposedly defamatory articles was not filed until several months after Somyot's arrest proves that the authorities wanted his head and just needed a pretext to jail him."
Prison sentence for journalist accused of insulting the King must be scrapped (ARTICLE 19, 24 January 2013)
Editor sentenced to 11 years for defamatory articles (Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International, 24 January 2013)
Thai editor Somyot sentenced to 11 years in prison (Committee to Protect Journalists, 24 January 2013)
IFJ joins chorus of protest at jailing of editor in Thailand (International Federation of Journalists, 29 January 2013)
Thai editor sentenced to 11 years (International Press Institute, 12 February 2013)
Where insulting royalty will put you in jail (Index on Censorship, 21 February 2013)
Human Rights Watch
Southeast Asian Press Alliance