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Government acknowledges effect of lèse-majesté on free expression

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Bangkok, 18.10.11 - In a country where political discourse can amount to treason, ARTICLE 19 welcomes the recent Thai Foreign Ministry admission that the enforcement of the lèse-majesté law has affected people's freedom of expression. The admission comes nearly two weeks after Thailand underwent its first United Nations (UN) human rights review, in which the excessive use of the lèse-majesté law was highlighted by the ARTICLE 19 delegation in attendance, and echoed further by UN member states.

"Put in simple terms - by its very existence, lèse-majesté law constitutes a threat to legitimate political expression and freedom of expression. This problem is further compounded by the routine abuse of the law by a range of actors eager to please rulers or justify their own power. The acknowledgement of this problem by the Thai authorities is a first step in the right direction. The repeal of the law is the only legitimate outcome of this process," said Dr. Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

According to figures produced by the Thai Judiciary authorities, approximately 480 people were brought before the lower courts in 2010 on lèse-majesté charges. Freedom Against Censorship Thailand and i-Law (Thai groups monitoring censorship) identified 75,000 websites that were blocked in 2010 under the Computer Crime Act and Emergency Decree, 57,000 of which for containing lèse-majesté content.

Cases demonstrating abuse of the lèse-majesté law include that of academic and historian Somsak Jiamteerasakul, who was charged under this law for calling for the reform of Thailand's monarchy, including through greater transparency of its financial dealings.

During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session in Geneva on October 5 2011, the Thai delegation stated that it was keen to prevent further abuse. In addition, they stated that a committee had been set up to advise the government on the use of lèse-majesté. Furthermore, the delegation said that a second committee had undertaken a comparative study on lèse-majesté to recommend guidelines. ARTICLE 19 encourages the government to publish and circulate the outcome of the review of lesé-majesté law and its implementation.

As highlighted in ARTICLE 19's submission on Thailand, ahead of the UPR, the lèse-majesté law should be ultimately repealed. As a first step, ARTICLE 19 recommends that the Thai authorities build on their acknowledgement of the problem by engaging in a thorough review of the law and its implementation, and identifying all its constitutive elements that may violate the Thai constitution and international standards, and contributing to its misuse. ARTICLE 19 further recommends that during this review, a moratorium be imposed on the use of the law.

In addition, ARTICLE 19 urges the authorities to review in a similar fashion the Computer Crime Act with a view to identifying all necessary amendments so that the Act may be brought in line with the Thai constitution and international standards.

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