Somyot was arrested at a Thai border checkpoint at Aranyaprathet province while attempting to cross into Cambodia. He was held without bail in a Bangkok detention center for 84 days, the maximum period allowable under Thai law, before lèse majesté charges were filed against him on July 26, 2011.
Somyot faced two separate charges under the country’s lèse majesté law, which prohibits material deemed offensive to the royal family. Convictions under the law carry a maximum 15-year jail term.
On January 23, 2013, a Bangkok court sentenced Somyot to 11 years in prison for news articles that judges deemed insulting to the Thai monarchy, according to local and foreign news reports. The charges stemmed from two articles published in the now-defunct Voice of Taksin, a highly partisan news magazine affiliated with the political group United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, which closed during a government crackdown on the group in May 2010.
Somyot, a labor activist and political protest leader, was founder and editor of the publication. He initially refused to divulge the name of the author of the articles, but during testimony in court identified the individual as Jakrapob Penkair, a former government spokesman living in self-imposed exile in Cambodia. The articles, published in February and March 2010, were written under the pen name “Jit Polachan.”
Days before his arrest, Somyot had started a petition to pressure parliament into removing Article 112, the lèse majesté law, from the criminal code, according to reports. Under the law, any Thai individual may file lèse majesté charges. Thai royal family members have never personally filed charges.
Somyot filed an appeal on April 1, 2013. He was denied bail on 16 occasions on the grounds that he may flee the country, reports said. His family and supporters submitted a 17th application for bail pending a decision in the Supreme Court case in April 2015.
Somyot’s wife and son, both of whom have campaigned for his unconditional release, were briefly detained on May 24, 2014, two days after the military seized power, according to press reports. Military authorities confiscated two of their laptop computers. No charges were filed.
On September 18, 2014, Thailand’s Court of Appeals upheld Somyot’s conviction and jail sentence. The court failed to inform Somyot, his defense lawyers, and his family that the hearing would take place on that day, according to local news reports. On November 19, 2014, Somyot’s lawyers appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court. The motion was still pending in late 2017.
Somyot suffers from gout, allergies, hypertension, and knee pain from a previous surgery, according to an associate of his who communicated with CPJ via an intermediary and requested anonymity. Somyot was denied access to writing materials and was warned by prison authorities after he wrote notes on his arms and legs during a 2017 prison visit, the associate said.