Author Insults Thai King, Editor gets 10-year SentencePosted: February 6, 2013
On Jan. 23, a former magazine editor was sentenced to 10 years in prison for insulting Thailand’s king in violation of the country’s strict lèse-majesté law. Although the convicted, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, 51, did not actually write the incriminating articles, he was convicted for publishing them and targeted by the court for directly challenging the lèse-majesté law, which makes it illegal to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen, heir to the throne or regent. The author fled to Cambodia.
The “defamatory” articles never actually named the king, but Thailand’s constitutional court ruled that “the writing conveyed connection to historical events.” The first article told the story of a family that plots to kill millions and quash democracy, and the second piece was a fictional tale of a ghost that haunts Thailand and plots massacres.
The editor defended his magazine’s articles in court, saying that the lèse-majesté law violated freedom of expression. The court brushed aside the challenge, stating that insulting the king “wounds the feelings of Thais who respect and worship the king and the monarchy.” The king deserves “special protection” because he is “the center of the nation,” the court said.
International groups immediately criticized the court’s decision. Prominent organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance have all spoken out against the Thai verdict. Human Rights Watch said it would “further chill freedom of expression in Thailand.” Thai chief justice Thawee Prachuablarb defended the lèse-majesté law, arguing that it reflected Thailand’s culture, which is different than that of other countries.
Why is it important that the media act as a global watchdog? What right do foreign countries have to criticize the cultural laws and values of other nations? Did the court’s decision really help defend the king?