A Thai magazine editor was jailed for 10 years yesterday for insulting the royal family under the country’s draconian lese-majeste law, a sentence that drew condemnation from international rights groups and the EU.
Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, editor of Voice of the Oppressed, a magazine devoted to self-exiled former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was found guilty of publishing articles in 2010 defaming Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The articles criticized the role of a fictional character meant to represent the king, public prosecutors said in a July 2011 report. Discussions about the role of the monarchy are forbidden.
“The accused is a journalist who had a duty to check the facts in these articles before publishing them. He knew the content defamed the monarchy, but allowed their publication anyway,” a judge said in passing sentence.
The EU Delegation to Thailand said the verdict and sentence undermined the right to freedom of expression.
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch said the ruling was “more about Somyot’s strong support for amending the lese-majeste law than about any harm incurred by the monarchy.”
Rights groups say that the law is used by Thailand’s powerful elite to silence political opponents, including supporters of pro-Thaksin groups.
“The lese-majeste law works against the long-term interests of the Thai monarchy,” said David Streckfuss, a Thailand-based independent academic and lese-majeste expert.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, promised to amend the law during her 2011 election campaign, but has rowed back on that since coming to office, causing divisions among her supporters.
Elsewhere in Thailand yesterday, insurgents shot dead a teacher in front of dozens of children in a school cafeteria, police said, in the latest deadly attack on an education worker.
Cholathee Charoenchol, a 51-year-old Muslim, was shot in the head at Tanyong School in Narathiwat Province’s Bacho District as at least 30 pupils and several teachers looked on, officials said.
He was the 158th teacher and other school staff killed during a nine-year-old insurgency that has gripped Thailand’s Muslim-majority deep south near its border with Malaysia.
Bacho Police officials said two insurgents parked their motorcycle in front of the school canteen and walked into the building, where one of them shot Cholathee with a pistol.
Thousands of schools closed temporarily last month in protest at a lack of security for teachers, who are targeted by the shadowy network of militants for their perceived collaboration with the Thai state.
They reopened after the government pledged to beef-up security.
Colonel Pramote Promin, the spokesman for the Thai army in the south, said a lack of cooperation from Muslim villagers was making it hard to protect teachers “no matter how strict security measures are.”