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Thailand: Closed trial threatens justice

The Thai authorities should immediately allow a public trial for Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul, who is charged with violating Thailand’s ‘lese majeste’ law for allegedly insulting the monarchy, Amnesty International said today.

Judge Prommat Toosang of the Criminal Court in Bangkok ordered a closed trial as proceedings began on Tuesday against Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul for comments she made during a speech at a demonstration in July 2008.

Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director, said:

“Under international law, public hearings are crucial for protecting an individual’s right to a fair trial and due process. When a judge closes the doors on a trial it significantly raises the risk of injustice taking place.”

The judge reportedly justified his decision to close the courtroom as a "matter of national security." Both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Thai Constitution allow public exclusion on such grounds, but such limitations are legitimate only as strictly necessary, and if no less restrictive measures are available.

“The Thai government will have a very difficult time explaining why the trial of someone charged with making an insulting remark could compromise Thailand’s national security,” said Sam Zarifi.

Judge Prommat reportedly said that he could “guarantee the defendant will get a fair trial”, despite barring the public and the press.

“This guarantee is simply not verifiable if the doors are closed, which is why international and Thai law call for public trials,” said Sam Zarifi. “In this case, a fair trial means that the doors should remain open”.

Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul is a supporter of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a coup d’etat in 2006.

The lese majeste law in Thailand prohibits any word or act that “defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent” and is punishable with up to 15 years imprisonment.

Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand has acceded, states that all persons have the right to a “fair and public hearing.”

Section 40 of Thailand’s 2007 Constitution states that all people have “fundamental rights in the judicial process composed of, at least, the right to a public trial.”

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