BANGKOK – A Thailand criminal court convicted Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, the editor of the now-defunct Voice of Taksin magazine to 11 years in jail on Wednesday to the dismay of human rights defenders.
Somyot, who is also a prominent Thai labor rights activist, was on trial for two counts of lese majeste for publishing two articles that contained what prosecutors called “negative references to the monarchy,” reports Human Rights Watch.
He was sentenced to five years on each of the charges, and the court cancelled the suspension of a previous one-year sentence – for a total of 11 years in prison, according to the Bangkok Post.
Somyot had already been arrested multiple times for protesting against the government, but this particular conviction is due to the vague lese majeste law that prohibits any word or act defaming, insulting or threatening the Thai monarchy.
Article 112 of Thailand’s penal code, reports Human Rights Watch, states that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.”
The Thai Constitutional Court ruled in October 2012 that the restrictions on freedom of expression and the criminal penalties for lese majeste offenses were constitutional, because breaches of lese majeste were considered threats to national security.
Many Red Shirts seek the return of Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon who lives overseas to avoid a prison sentence for corruption that he contends is politically motivated.
His sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, took office in mid-2011 after a landslide election victory by Thaksin’s allies, but she has said she will not seek to change the royal defamation law.
At a press conference last year, Somyot’s wife Sukanya said the legislation was futile. “You can physically put them in prison, but you cannot jail their thoughts,” she said.
Human rights groups say this law is a way for the elite to silence opponents. International human rights organizations including Freedom House and Amnesty International have sent out global appeals on his case, reports the Bangkok Post.
The European Union has stated its concern on this decision that affects Thailand’s image as a democratic society.
During his trial, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk told the court that the two incriminating articles were written by Jakkrapob Penkair under a pen name of Jit Pollachan, reports The Nation.
Jakkrapob is a political dissident who founded the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, whose supporters are called the “red shirts.” He escaped Thailand after an arrest warrant was issued against him on terrorism charges.