BANGKOK – The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Tuesday it is appalled at the long prison sentences given to people convicted in Thailand of insulting the monarchy, and is calling for the immediate release of all people jailed for exercising freedom of expression.
Its statement, released in Geneva, comes just four days after Thai military courts in separate cases gave prison sentences of 30 and 28 years, respectively, to a man and a woman for posting messages on Facebook found to have violated the lese majeste law.
Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the U.N. agency is urging the Thai government to amend the law, which it described as “vague and broad,” to meet international human rights standards, declaring that it should not be used to smother debate on public issues, even if criticism of the head of state is involved.
Both of the accused in Friday’s cases were originally given substantial sentences that were halved because they pleaded guilty. The sentences were the longest in memory handed down for the non-violent crime under what is widely known as Article 112 of the Criminal Code. The U.N. statement also mentioned a case in May where a businessman was given a sentence of 25 years — halved from 50 — for comments on the monarchy he posted on the Internet.
A spokesman for Thailand’s Junta Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha ruling junta said the long sentences were “just” and only seemed harsh because “the previous administration neglected” to enforce the law. The military ousted an elected government in a coup last year, and lese majeste cases were moved from civilian to military courts.
The U.N. human rights agency charged that the handling of lese majeste cases does not allow the right to a fair trial
Meanwhile, The United States said on Wednesday it was “deeply concerned” by long prison terms handed down by military courts in Thailand for two people convicted of insulting the monarchy.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that while the United States had “utmost respect for the Thai monarchy,” it was “deeply concerned” by the sentences. “No one should be jailed for peacefully expressing their views,” he said in a statement.
“We regularly urge Thai authorities, both privately and publicly, to ensure that freedom of expression is not criminalized and is protected in accordance with Thailand’s international obligations and commitments.”
We are deeply concerned about the lengthy prison sentences handed down by Thai military court against two people for violating Thailand lese-majeste law.
No one should be jailed for peacefully expressing their views.
We regularly urge Thai authorities both privately and publicly to ensure that freedom of expression is not criminalized and is protected in accordance to Thailand international obligations and commitments.
And also I would say that the United States has the utmost respect of the Thai monarchy.