UN Concerned with Thai Lese Majeste Laws

The United Nations human rights office on Friday 9 December called on Thai authorities to reform laws that jail people convicted of insulting senior members of the country’s royal family, saying they were having a chilling effect on freedom of expression.
 A spokesperson for Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told journalists in Geneva that the UN human rights office (OHCHR) was concerned about Thailand’s laws of lèse majesté – where anyone deemed to have defamed, insulted or threatened the King and several other senior royals can be jailed for up to 15 years.
 “Such harsh criminal sanctions are neither necessary nor proportionate and violate the country’s international human rights obligations,” said Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson.In addition to the disproportionate prison sentences being handed down by the courts, we are also concerned about the extended periods that accused persons are being held in pre-trial detention.
 She said that in the meantime, Thai authorities should issue guidelines to police and prosecutors to stop arresting and charging people “under these vaguely worded laws. In addition to the disproportionate prison sentences being handed down by the courts, we are also concerned about the extended periods that accused persons are being held in pre-trial detention.”
 In October, Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, also spoke out over the lèse majesté laws, saying their vagueness breached international treaties.
 Three days prior to Frank La Rue’s statement, representatives of a dozen countries including Sweden and Norway recommended during a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session on Thailand that the Thai government amend the lese majeste law to bring the country’s level of freedom of expression in line with international standards.
 The law is question is section 112 of the Thai penal code, which states that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne or the Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years,” and the Computer Crimes Act, which can impose jail terms of up to five years for any views on the monarchy made on the Internet that are deemed to threaten national security.
 The representative of Finland urged Thailand to invite the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression to visit Thailand.
 The representative of Norway – also a kingdom – made the most concrete suggestion, pointing out that although Norway has a lese majeste law, a charge can only be brought with the personal approval of the king in order to “avoid political misuse”.
 Thailand’s delegation to the meeeting lead by H.E. Mr. Sihasak Phuangketkeow contended that the Royal Thai government recognized that there was a potential issue arising from the application of the law and also wished to prevent the misuse of the law.
“To this end, various measures have been taken, including the setting up of a committee in the Royal Thai Police headquarters providing additional screening to ensure that each charge has legal merit through the application of consistent criteria. As a result, many charges have been dropped for lack of substantial evidence,” the delegation explained, adding that:
“It should also be noted that there have been and continue to be academic and public debates in Thai society about the lèse-majesté laws as well as the Computer Crimes Act.”
 

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