Urgent Interventions

United Nations Working Group declares detention of Thai human rights defender a violation of international law

The Observatory for the Protection of Human RightsDefenders

Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)

Joint Press Release

Thailand: United Nations Working Group declaresdetention of Thai human rights defender a violation of international law

Paris-Geneva-Bangkok,December 10, 2012. The InternationalFederation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture(OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human RightsDefenders, together with the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) in Thailand, welcomethe opinion issued by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention(UNWGAD), which found the pre-trial detention of human rights defender Mr.Somyot Prueksakasemsuk to be in contravention of international human rights lawand standards and called for his release.

Somyot is in his 20th consecutivemonth of pre-trial detention since he was arrested on April 30, 2011, five daysafter he launched a petition campaign to collect 10,000 signatures required fora parliamentary review of lèse-majestélaw. His applications for provisional release have been turned down repeatedlyby the court. Somyot is charged with violating article 112 of the Thai CriminalCode (the lèse-majesté law) forallowing, as editor, the publication of two articles written by another personin the magazine Voice of Taksin,which are alleged to be critical of the monarchy. As is usual in such cases,the “offending” texts were not publicly revealed during the trial, making thelegal process non-transparent.

Danthong Breen, Chairman of UCL,points out that Somyot remains a member of this human rights organization andis a human rights defender whose defence of freedom of speech ill deservessevere draconian legal procedure.

Contemporaries of Somyot in UCLhave also expressed their support. “I have known Khun Somyot since we bothserved in the Union for Civil Liberty. He has shown commitment to work for thewell-being of workers. Later on, he plays a greater role in the promotion ofpolitical rights in general and those of Thai workers in particular. Hislong career in human rights and democracy deserves praise not politicallymotivated charge of lèse-majesté”, said Gothom Arya, Lecturer atMahidol University in Thailand.

He shared the good and bad times of the workers, wasdedicated and fought sincerely against the violation of their rights. Headhered to human dignity, believed in democracy, and disagreed withdictatorship and coup d'etat. Somyot was accepted and trusted by workers whilehe was acting as a workers' rights officer of the UCL”, said JaturongBoonyarattanasoontorn, former Chairman of UCL.

On June 15, 2012, the UNWGAD sent acommunication to the Thai government, raising its concerns and questionsregarding Somyot. The Government replied on June 29, defending the lèse-majestélaw as “legitimate and indispensable fornational security”. It went as far as describing lèse-majesté offenses as an “imminentthreat to national unity and stability and, indeed, national existence”,but apparently did not provide any concrete evidence to justify such sweepingclaims in general and in Somyot’s case in particular.

In its opinion on Somyot’s caserendered in August 2012, the UNWGAD agrees with the UN Special Rapporteur onFreedom of Expression that the lèse-majestélaws in Thailand “suppress importantdebates on matters of public interests, thus putting in jeopardy the right tofreedom of opinion and expression”, which is protected by Article 19 of theInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Thailand’s use of the lèse-majesté laws, including thejudicial harassment and arbitrary detention of Somyot and other persons for thepeaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, flies in the face ofits binding obligations under the ICCPR to respect and protect free speech”, said SouhayrBelhassen, FIDH president.

The UNWGAD also stated that boththe launching of a petition to review the lèse-majestélaw and the publication of articles critical of the monarchy “fall within the boundaries of opinions andspeech protected by Article 19 of the UDHR and ICCPR”. The UNWGAD callednot only for his release but also for compensation to be provided to Somyot.

The UNWGAD opinion follows a seriesof communications from the UN regarding the lèse-majestélaw. In June 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human RightsDefenders, Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom ofExpression, Mr. Frank La Rue, sent a jointurgent appeal to the Thai government raising several lèse-majesté cases against human rights defenders, includingSomyot. In October 2011, Mr. Frank La Rue urgedThailand to amend the Computer Crimes Act and Article 112 of the Criminal Code, stating that the lawsare “vague and overly broad, and the harsh criminal sanctions are neithernecessary nor proportionate to protect the monarchy or national security.” InDecember 2011, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressedits concern about the extended periods that persons accused of lèse-majesté are being held in pre-trial detention. The UNWAGD,together with three other UN Special Rapporteurs, sent another urgentappealin December 2011 to the Thai government on Somyot, raising questions regardinghis treatment and the compatibility of the lèse-majestélaw with international human rights standards.

In October, the ConstitutionalCourt ruled that the lèse majesté lawdoes not contravene the 2007 Constitution. Somyot is due to appear before theBangkok Criminal Court on December 19, 2012 when the Constitutional Court’sruling is read.

We reiterate our call for Somyot’s immediate releasefrom detention and an end to the judicial harassment against him. We also callon representatives of the UN, development partners, and embassies in Bangkok tourgently raise their concerns with the Thai authorities on the treatment ofSomyot and to send observers to the hearing of December 19”, said GeraldStaberock, OMCT Secretary General.


· FIDH: AudreyCouprie / Arthur Manet: + 33 1 43 55 25 18

· OMCT: DelphineReculeau: + 41 22 809 49 39

· UCL: DanthongBreen, +66 814502254

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