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IFJ supports Parliament's decision not to extend lèse majesté laws

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

Thailand's Lèse Majesté Laws Abandoned

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has supported the Thai Parliament's decision not to extend its lèse majesté laws, which restrict media coverage of issues involving the royal family and advisors.

Thailand already has severe lèse majesté laws to protect the royal family from criticism or attack. Any journalist in breach of the laws faces a prison term of up to fifteen years. However, the amendments proposed by the Thai National Legislative Assembly would have extended the laws to include protection from criticism for children of the monarch and for the royal advisors in the Privy Council.

Thailand's military-appointed parliament abandoned plans to amend the lèse majesté laws when a member of the Privy Council opposed having such protection.

It is alleged the amendments were proposed after a clip appeared on video-sharing website YouTube accusing chief royal advisor Prem Tinsulanonda of masterminding last year's military coup, which saw the end of Thaksin Shinawatra's rule.

According to IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park, Thailand's lèse majesté laws are amongst the most stringent in the world.

"The rejection of these amendments is a victory for democracy, yet while these laws are in place, freedom of speech and expression in Thailand will be under threat," she said.

"Thailand's lèse majesté laws serve as a muzzle for media criticism and public debate, both vital for any democracy."

Thai media rights advocates also voiced their concerns that these laws should be open to critical debate in a public arena, rather than in private by army-appointed legislators.

"The Thai people are still waiting for their government to uphold their promise of a democratic future. Instead they work to undermine democracy by adopting undemocratic amendments to some of the most severe lèse majesté laws in the world," Park said.

The IFJ urges the Thai government to focus on restoring democratic order in Thailand by encouraging free speech and by abolishing rather than expanding the restrictive lèse majesté laws.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in more than 115 countries.

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