Thailand: Conviction of university students an 'assault on freedom of expression'

A guilty verdict in Thailand today against two students involved in a play deemed to have insulted the monarchy should be overturned immediately, Amnesty International said.

Earlier today, a criminal court in Bangkok found the two university students, Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and Pornthip Munkong, 26, guilty of violating Thailand’s “lèse-majesté” law, which criminalises supposed insults directed towards the Thai monarchy.  The conviction relates to their involvement in staging a play about a fictional monarch, the “Wolf Bride” at Thammasat University in October 2013. They were sentenced to two and half years in prison.

The pair pleaded guilty to the charges in December and both have been held in prison for more than six months already, having been denied bail on numerous occasions.

Rupert Abbott, Amnesty’s Research Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said:

“This is an assault on freedom of expression. It is appalling that Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong have been jailed just for staging a play.

“Since taking power last year, Thailand’s military authorities have made unprecedented use of the lèse-majesté law to silence and target critics who are simply peacefully exercising their human rights.

“The pair should never have had to stand trial in the first place and the verdict should be overturned and sentences expunged. Their guilty plea should not be considered as an admission of criminal responsibility as the courts regularly reduce sentences for defendants who have pleaded guilty.

“Amnesty International considers all those who have been jailed solely for peacefully expressing their opinions to be prisoners of conscience, who should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

Lèse-majesté suspects are routinely denied bail on the pretext that their cases are matters of “national security”. Magazine editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was arrested in 2011 and convicted on lèse-majesté charges in January 2013. He has been denied 16 separate bail requests, including during his appeal.

 

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