Editor faces anti-royal charges in Thailand

Bangkok, July 28, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned by the anti-royal charges filed against Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a political activist and former editor-in-chief of the Voice of Taksin and Red Power partisan newsmagazines.

Local media reported that Somyot was charged on Monday with two offenses of lese majeste for two separate articles deemed critical of the royal family published in his now-defunct Voice of Taksin magazine. If the journalist is found guilty of both charges, he will face a possible 30 years in prison. Lese majeste charges in Thailand carry up to 15-year jail terms and have been abused for political purposes during the country’s protracted political conflict.

Somyot was first arrested on April 30 at a border checkpoint at Aranyaprathet province while attempting to cross into neighboring Cambodia. He was held without bail in a Bangkok detention center for 84 days, the maximum period allowable under Thai criminal law, before the formal charges were filed against him on Tuesday.

According to local media reports, Somyot refused to reveal the identity of the authors who wrote the contested articles, which were published under pseudonyms.

“We call on the relevant Thai authorities to release Somyot Prueksakasemsuk and to drop the anti-royal charges filed against him,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “The growing official use of lese majeste charges to stifle free expression has greatly undermined Thailand’s democratic credentials and done more harm than good to the royal institution the laws are designed to protect.”

Somyot, who also leads the protest group June 24 Democracy, which is aligned with self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was detained in May 2010 for more than three weeks after troops cracked down on an anti-government protest encampment in Bangkok. Two journalists were killed and several others injured during armed exchanges between protesters and security officials.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government established a Senate committee to weigh possible reforms of the lese majeste law as outlined in Article 112 of the Thai penal code, but no concrete steps have been taken. In recent months, the Thai military has taken the lead in pursuing lese majeste complaints, including against a senior Thai academic.