Freedom of tweets: how two men in different countries are punished for tweets

A 61-year-old grandfather Amphon Tangnoppakul known as "Uncle SMS" , who was convicted of defaming the Thai queen by text message, has died in jail, whilst serving a 20-year sentence.

He had run afoul of Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws, under which it is a crime to insult a serving monarch, or to offend their dignity. Amphon had always pleaded his innocence, and had wept in court when he was convicted, gaining wide public sympathy in Thailand, surrounded by his grandchildren when his hefty sentence was handed down.  

Speaking to the Times, today, Benjamin Zawacki,  Amnesty International Thailand researcher,  said: “Ampon was a prisoner of conscience. As such he should have been released immediately and without condition. Amnesty in fact had just obtained consent from him to begin a campaign on his behalf, which regrettably we must now forgo.

“He had come to represent the enormous degree of injustice that was this lèse-majesté law and yet he wanted nothing more than to be a grandfather and to enjoy his old age.”

It is a poignant story. It would be wonderful if he were the last person in Thailand to face charges simply for voicing his views.

It seems though, that Thailand is not the only country where you have to watch what you tweet. Our campaign for Amphon’s freedom might not have got off the ground, but today Amnesty has called for the release of Nabeel Rajab, the director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, who was arrested at the weekend and charged with “insulting a national institution”.

Rajab was arrested on arrival at Bahrain International Airport on Saturday evening, following a trip. Just before travelling abroad he had been summoned for questioning by the Public Prosecutor after the Ministry of Interior accused him of sending “insulting” tweets. He did not attend because of his travel.

The activist was brought to the Public Prosecutor's Office on Sunday and interrogated. Rajab’s lawyer said about eight insulting tweets were mentioned, and he was given a seven-day detention order, pending investigation. Amnesty is calling for his immediate release. Find out more here.

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