Somyot Prueksakasemsuk received some very unwelcome news yesterday. His appeal of his 2013 sentence to ten years in prison was rejected. Now, what crime could he have possibly committed that would merit such a prison term? In the United States, that could be for public corruption, fraud, attempted murder–any number of crimes. There are often even shorter terms for sexual assault and manslaughter. So what heinous crime did Mr. Prueksakasemsuk commit?
Prueksakasemsuk, a magazine editor, allegedly published two articles under a pseudonym which contained material that was defamatory toward the royal family of Thailand. Oh, yes. Still a thing, and not just in Bahrain.
Under Thailand’s lese majeste law, also known as Article 112, “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” Prueksakasemsuk is a supporter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and after Thaksin was deposed in a 2006 coup, Prueksakasemsuk became a member of the “Red Shirt” movement which demonstrated against the new Prime Minister, and is an advocate of free speech. The two articles were published in his magazine, Voice of Taksin, in 2010, and he has been detained or in prison since 2011.
HRW alleges that the articles in question weren’t even written by Mr. Prueksakasemsuk, but rather by “Jit Pollachan, the pseudonym of Jakrapob Penkair, the exiled former spokesman of Thaksin. “Some suspect that his arrest may have had less to do with the publication of these article, and more to do with the editor’s vocal opposition to Article 112.
Unrest in Thailand following the most recent coup has led to even tighter enforcement of censorship laws. For example, four peaceful protesters were recently tried and convicted by a military court for violating the ban on public gatherings.
In light of the recent deaths of Steven Sotloff and James Foley, it is time to recognize something which we don’t talk about enough, and which this excellent New York Times article discusses in more depth. Journalists are heroes. They shed light on horrors and injustices all around the world. In their pursuit of the truth, they often put their own careers and lives at stake. As a result, we trust them to give us the information on which we base so many of our decisions, from what restaurants are safe to eat at to what countries are safe to visit to what leader we can trust to rule our country. Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are the cornerstone of a free society.
But since I feel uncomfortable ending on that oddly sincere note, here’s an entirely unrelated video that just makes me smile.