The Leaderboard: Somyot Prueksakasemsuk

Who is he?

Somyot Prueksakasemsuk is a well-known Thai editor and activist. He launched the magazine Voice of Taksin in 2009 in support of outsted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The government shut down the magazine in 2010.

Somyot has since played a prominent role in the Red Shirt political movement, and is an outspoken critic of Thailand’s harsh lèse majesté laws, which criminalize insults against the country’s monarchy. Somyot helped lead efforts to amend the lèse majesté laws.

Mr. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk. Source: Prachatai’s flickr stream, used under creative commons license.

Why is he in the news?

A Bangkok criminal court found Somyot guilty of lèse majesté on January 23 and sentenced him to 11 years in prison. Police arrested him on April 23, 2011, for two Voice of Taksin articles published in 2010 that were deemed offensive to the Thai monarchy, just five days after Somyot submitted to lawmakers a proposal to amend the lèse majesté laws.

The authors of the articles were never charged. Human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) decried Somyot’s 20-month pretrial detention, during which courts denied him bail 12 times.

What can we expect?

Somyot’s arrest and conviction were notably harsh. While Thailand’s Printing Act does not hold editors responsible for the content of their journalists, authorities deem criticism of the monarchy a threat to national security and can try editors under lèse majesté.

Recent convictions of other opposition figures show increasing use of lèse majesté laws. A criminal court on January 17 sentenced Red Shirt leader Yossawaris Chuklom to two years in prison for a 2010 speech in which he alluded to the monarchy, marking continued application of lèse majesté charges to defendants who do not directly mention the monarchy.

HRW and CPJ warn that the increasing use of other laws such as the Computer Crimes Act and Penal Code, and continued use of lèse majesté limit freedom of speech in Thailand.

Somyot’s lawyer Karom Polpornklang said immediately after the trial on January 23 they will appeal the verdict.

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