Thai Activist Sentenced to Prison

Thailand’s criminal court today sentenced a labor rights activist with long-standing ties to the garment industry to 10 years in prison.

SINGAPORE — Thailand’s criminal court today sentenced a Thai labor rights activist with long-standing ties to the garment industry to 10 years in prison for committing lèse-majesté, or causing offense to the monarchy.

The court found Somyot Prueksakasemsuk guilty on two counts of lèse-majesté for running articles allegedly defamatory of the Southeast Asian kingdom’s monarch in Voice of Taksin, a magazine he published. Somyot, who plead not guilty to the charges, could have been jailed for a maximum of 30 years.

“We said that he did not write the article, but the court did not listen,” said Sukanya Prueksakasemsuk, Somyot’s wife, in a phone interview. “They convicted him just because he published the article.”

She said that she was in close consultation with Somyot’s supporters and lawyers and that they intended to appeal the decision.

Somyot’s sentence was regarded as particularly harsh. Last year, his lawyers argued unsuccessfully before Thailand’s constitutional court that the lengthy jail terms — up to 15 years for each count of lèse-majesté — were disproportionately punitive.

“If you defame a normal person, it’s only a two thousand baht [or $67.10 at current exchange] fine and maybe a year in prison,” Sukanya said. “This is 10 times more.”

“This is a regressive decision. Somyot has been found guilty simply for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and should be released immediately,” said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director. “We urge the authorities to release Somyot and all other prisoners of conscience without conditions. They should also grant Somyot reparations for the time he has spent in pre-trial detention.”

Somyot had been detained since late April 2011 and questions have been raised about his treatment while in custody. According to his wife, the Thai activist suffers from hypertension and gout and initially did not receive adequate treatment. All of his 12 requests for bail had been denied, though Sukanya said that they would continue applying for him to be released on bail before an appeal trial, which might take place only in 2016.

Somyot, who was supported throughout his trial by organizations like the Clean Clothes Campaign, made his name in the Eighties working with unions like the International Textile and Garment Worker’s Federation. According to his wife, he had reduced his involvement with the garment industry in recent years and focused on running the magazine and a tour business.