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Lese majeste complaint filed against Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) expresses grave concern over the filing of a lese majeste complaint against the board of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT), and stresses that the development once again underscores the persistent and continuing threat that lese majeste provisions in Thailand's criminal law pose against press freedom and free expression in Thailand.

"We find this development deeply troubling. All journalists - both foreign and Thai - should be troubled by what is ultimately an attempt to harass the entire media community in Thailand," SEAPA executive director Roby Alampay said. "We have said it before and we will say it again: Lese majeste provisions in Thai laws must be reviewed by Thailand's legislators and leadership for the ease by which they can be used to stifle free speech and harass the media in the country."

Media reports said the FCCT board was accused of distributing and selling DVD copies of a speech delivered at the club in 2007 by then PM's Office Minister Jakrapob Penkair. The speech had been criticised as anti-monarchy, although Jakrapob himself has not been formally charged with lese majeste.

Any citizen can lodge lese majeste complaints in Thailand, but official charges can only come following police investigations into such complaints.

SEAPA says, however, that the intimidation starts as soon as a complaint is filed, and is rooted in the very presence of lese majeste provisions in Thailand's criminal statutes. "The very threat of accusations being formalised as charges can hang over one's head for years, and that can have a chilling effect on individuals as well as on anybody else who might have something to say," Alampay said. "Lese majeste is a blunt instrument that can be picked up by anyone in Thailand. Politicians against politicians, government against journalists, citizens against citizens, even corporations against labor leaders. It is a law that is being abused, not always in defense of the monarchy, and always to the detriment of free speech."

Ms. Laksana Kornsilpa, who had filed the complaint with the Lumpini police on 30 June 2009, added that the FCCT also translated into English the statements made by two leaders of the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD), Veera Musikapong and Nattawuth Saigua. Their statements, Laksana alleged, are defamatory to the royal family. She alleged that the FCCT board "may be acting in an organised fashion and the goal may be to undermine the credibility of the high institution of Thailand."

Article 112 of Thailand's Criminal Law allows anyone to file a complaint with the police against anyone he or she deems to have defamed the monarch and members of the royal family. Police investigation into the matter could take years. If formally charged, tried, and found guilty of lese majeste, offenders can be meted prison terms of up to 15 years.

In March 2009, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva vowed to look into the lese majeste law and its applications to ensure it will not be abused by anyone. He, however, ruled out the repeal of the law, and vowed to exercise a light touch when it comes to lese majeste matters. The Prime Minister said he personally discussed the matter with police leaders, and insisted that abuse of the law could be curbed by watching against frivolity and political interests.

The complaint filed against the FCCT leadership, however, once again highlights the threat emanating from the law's very existence. SEAPA urges PM Abhisit to look more urgently into how lese majeste is undermining free speech and press freedom in Thailand.

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