08/12/2015, 00.00
THAILAND
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UN calls on Bangkok to change its lese-majesty laws and release prisoners

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is alarmed by the heavy sentences (30 years) imposed on people for comments on Facebook. For UN spokesperson, the law should not be used “arbitrarily to curb debate”.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The United Nations called on Thailand yesterday to release immediately people languishing in jail for unduly long periods and amend its "vague and broad" lese-majesty legislation in order to bring it in line with international human rights standards.

"We call for the immediate release of those who have been jailed or held in prolonged pre-trial detention for exercising their rights to freedom of expression," said Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“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."

Since Thailand’s military led by Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power in May 2014, at least 40 people have been convicted or awaiting trial in jail for crimes related to section 112 of Thailand’s Penal Code (on lese-majesty).

Last Friday, a martial court in Bangkok sentenced a travel agent, Phongsak Sribunpeng, to 30 years in prison for posting six critical comments about the royal family on Facebook. Initially, the judges had inflicted 60 years, ten for each post, but reduced the sentence when the defendant confessed.

Recently, the United Nations in Geneva has reacted to the shockingly disproportionate prison terms handed down over the past few months by Thai courts in lese-majesty cases.

"These are the heaviest sentences we have recorded since 2006, when we began documenting cases of individuals prosecuted for lese majeste offences," said Shamdasani.

Such cases are particularly shocking since some of those convicted in recent months are people with psychosocial disabilities.

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej is 87. He has been on the throne for 69 years, making him the longest reigning monarch in the world.

For many ordinary Thais, he is a semi-god. However, some Thais have become increasingly (but silently) critical of the monarchy because of widespread corruption among the monarch’s inner circles.

For some critics, the ruling military junta  has recently used the country’s lese-majesty laws to crack down on dissent and rule with an iron fist.

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