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Freedom of expression record scrutinised, ARTICLE 19 calls on government to adopt UPR recommendations

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Geneva, 06.10.2011 - Thailand's freedom of expression record - especially its lèse-majesté law and the Computer Crimes Act (2007) - came under strong scrutiny during the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

"With a number of lèse-majesté and computer crimes cases currently on trial - such as the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn and Ampon Tangnoppakul - the international spotlight on Thailand's declining freedom of expression cannot be more timely. It is essential that the new government of Thailand adopts all UPR recommendations regarding freedom of expression and takes proactive and measurable steps in their implementation," said Dr Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

ARTICLE 19 attended the UPR of Thailand, during which United Nations Human Rights Council Member States expressed widespread concerns about the sharp increase in lèse-majesté and computer crime charges and the serious impact on freedom of expression.

Recommendations to Thailand to repeal or review the lèse-majesté law (Article 112 of Thailand's Penal Code) and the Computer Crime Act (2007) were made by fourteen member states, including Western European countries, New Zealand, Canada, Brazil and Indonesia.

Indonesia was the only member state of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to highlight the issue of freedom of expression in Thailand, a fellow ASEAN member. It urged Thailand to carry out a comprehensive review of its laws to ensure that they fulfil the right to freedom of expression in accordance with international standards.

Norway, a constitutional monarchy like Thailand, recommended the government strike a balance between protection of the monarchy and the right to freedom of expression for individuals, and called for public and transparent procedures in the legal proceedings of lèse-majesté and Computer Crime Act cases. Norway stressed that those accused of lèse-majesté should only be prosecuted with the consent of the king, to prevent abuse, and offered to share Norway's experience in this area.

Both the United Kingdom and France called for Thailand to enable the public to debate the lèse-majesté law without fear of prosecution. In recent years, even the discussion of the lèse-majesté law risks arrest.

A large number of delegates urged Thailand to review its special security laws, such as the Emergency Decree, which provides impunity for state officials and gives unchecked powers to the government to suppress expression and censor the media.

In response to the Review, the Thai delegation said, "The government recognises the implications of the law and is keen to prevent abuse. Measures have been taken including establishing a committee under the police to screen cases and ensure they meet the criteria for charges. As a result, many charges have been dropped. An additional committee has also been set up to advise on lèse-majesté. The committee has undertaken a comparative study on lèse-majesté to come up with guidelines to reduce complaints. There are ongoing public debates on the lèse-majesté law and these debates have generated a lot of recommendations on improving the situation."

On the Computer Crime Act, the Thai delegation said that the law is being amended and the government will consult with civil society and internet service providers (ISPs) to ensure that it will be brought in line with international standards. The Thai delegation also promised to extend open invitations to all United Nations Special Rapporteurs and to engage civil society in the implementations of the UPR recommendations.

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