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History professor faces lèse majesté complaint

(SEAPA/IFEX) - 10 May 2011 - A Thai history professor who is outspoken on issues concerning the monarchy now faces a complaint of lèse majesté filed by the Royal Thai Army, the independent news website Prachatai.com reported.

Prachatai.com said Dr. Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a prominent historian from Thammasat University, is scheduled to hear the details of the charge at Nang Lerg Police Station in Bangkok on 11 May 2011.

On 24 April, the 53-year-old academic called for a press conference at Thammasat University to talk about the harassment he had been subjected to, in the form of threatening phone calls and suspicious-looking men who were allegedly shadowing him. The press conference was attended by about 500 people from the academe, media, netizens and supporters.

Cases of lèse majesté have spiked lately. According to "Bangkok Post" columnist Achara Ashayagachat, more than 160 cases of lèse majesté have been filed by 2009, as compared to only three in the 1980s.

Somsak, who had been a student activist during the bloody uprising in 1976, has been widely criticized by the military and the royalist group, Yellow Shirts, for his statements about the monarchy.

Lèse majesté is a criminal offense in Thailand. Article 112 of the Thai Penal Code 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 lèse majesté, offenders can be meted prison terms of up to 15 years.

Somsak is the latest individual to face the lèse majesté charge in anticipation of national elections expected in July this year.

On 30 April, "Red Power" magazine editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was arrested under the lèse majesté law allegedly for an article he had written for the now-banned magazine "Voice of Thaksin". Agents of the Department of Special Investigation apprehended him at the Thailand-Cambodia immigration checkpoint. Prachatai.com reported that Somyot was denied bail.

In February, Surachai Danwattananusorn, a core leader of Red Siam (a splinter group of the Red Shirts), was arrested for allegedly insulting the monarchy in a speech made in December 2010.

In the midst of the fresh arrests and complaints, the Crime Suppression Division summoned Thanapol Eawsakul, editor of "Fah Diew Kan" ("Same Sky") magazine, on 27 April to give evidence in cases in which the "Fah Diew Kan" web board (now closed) was accused of committing lèse majesté.

Meanwhile, a military court in Bangkok deliberated, also on 27 April, the scheduling of hearings of a Royal Air Force officer, who had been charged with lèse majesté based upon a comment that he posted on his own Facebook page.

The abuse of the lèse majesté law has resulted in the spate of arrests and actions to shut down media. These are clear violations of the people's right to freedom of expression. With the impending general elections, it is more important now for a free flow of information and for critical voices to be heard.

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