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Press briefing note on Thailand and Mali

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Date:  11 August 2015
Subjects: (1) Thailand / lèse-majesté and (2) Mali


(1) Thailand / lèse-majesté

We are appalled by the shockingly disproportionate prison terms handed down over the past few months in lèse-majesté cases in Thailand. On 7 August 2015, the Bangkok Military Court sentenced travel agent Phongsak Sribunpeng to 30 years in prison for violating Section 112 of the Criminal Code (also known as the lèse-majesté law). Sribunpeng was convicted for six Facebook posts that were critical of members of the Royal Family. The sentence was initially 60 years – 10 years for each Facebook post – but this was reduced due to his guilty plea. On the same day, the Chiang Mai Military Court handed a 28-year prison term to Sasiwimol Patomwongfa-ngarm, a hotel staff, for posting seven comments on Facebook critical of the monarchy. The sentence was reduced from 56 years because of her guilty plea. Another particularly harsh sentence was handed down in March 2015, when the Bangkok Military Court convicted Thiansutham Suttijitseranee to 25 years in prison for posting five comments criticizing the monarchy on Facebook.

These are the heaviest sentences we have recorded since 2006, when we began documenting cases of individuals prosecuted for lèse-majesté offences for exercising the right to freedom of expression.

And there has been a sharp increase in the number of such cases. Since the May 2014 military coup, at least 40 individuals have either been convicted or remain in pre-trial detention for lèse-majesté offences, both under Section 112 and under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act. In early May 2014, prior to the coup, there were five people in prison for lèse-majesté related convictions. .

Also among those convicted in recent months are people with psycho-social disabilities. On 6 August, the Chiang Rai military court sentenced Samak Pantae to five years in prison for destroying a portrait of the King while he was intoxicated. Pantae has been diagnosed with psychosis by Chiang Rai Hospital and has been taking medication to battle visual and auditory hallucinations. On 25 June, the Bangkok Criminal Court sentenced Tanet Nontakoat to three years and four months in prison for sending URLs which contained alleged lèse-majesté content to a website administrator. Nontakoat is reportedly suffering from schizophrenia.

We are also alarmed at the spike in harsh prison terms delivered in such cases by the military courts, which themselves fail to meet international human rights standards, including the right to a fair trial. The public has been barred from entry and in many instances there is no possibility of appeal. International law requires that trials of civilians by military courts should be exceptional, and military trials must afford all due process guarantees provided for under international human rights law.

We call for the immediate release of all those who have been jailed or held in prolonged pre-trial detention for the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression. We also urge the military government to amend the vague and broad lèse-majesté law to bring it in line with international human rights standards. Until the law is amended, such laws should not be used arbitrarily to curb debate on critical issues of public interest, even when it involves criticism of heads of State or Government.

(2) Mali

We are deeply concerned at the reported release of detainees who were suspected of involvement in, or already formally charged with serious crimes, including war crimes, terrorist acts and gross human rights violations. We understand that a number of those released on 16 July 2015 were implicated in such crimes and are concerned that further releases may be imminent. Any measure which would de facto amount to an amnesty would be contrary to international law, and in violation of the commitment by the parties to the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement.

We emphasize the critical importance of the fight against impunity and the need to investigate and prosecute all gross violations of human rights, to ensure accountability. Amnesties that prevent the prosecution of individuals who may be legally responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and gross violations of human rights are inconsistent with States’ obligations under various sources of international law.

We urge the Government to ensure that any releases made in the context of confidence building measures are in full conformity with international law, and to take all measures to ensure the investigation and prosecution of all serious crimes under international law. The judicial authorities in Mali should pursue the investigation and prosecution of all alleged perpetrators of war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and other gross violations of human rights, and ensure that the rights of victims to an effective remedy are promoted and protected.

We also condemn the atrocious attacks on civilians in the Byblos hotel in Sevaré in Central Mali between Friday and Saturday last week. Such attacks, which appear designed to provoke a state of terror and intimidate, are in violation of national and international law. We call on the international community and neighbouring states to give all possible assistance to Mali in its ongoing efforts to restore peace, security and the full respect for human rights.

ENDS

For more information, please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org).