Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, 50, is an editor of Voice of Taksin (translated as “Voice of the Southerners/ Voice of the Oppressed”) magazine and a prominent labour rights activist in Thailand who has been detained since April 2011, charged under Thailand’s “lese majeste” laws. These laws prohibit insulting the Thai King or monarchy. Solidarity has signed an open letter calling for Somyot’s release and encourage other supporters of human rights and union rights to do the same.
Open letter: Call for the release of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk
Mr. Pairoj Wayuparp
The President of the Supreme Court of Justice of Thailand
6 Ratchadamnoen Nai Road,
Bangkok 10200 Thailand
HE Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra
Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit District
Bangkok 10300, Thailand
We are writing to you in connection with the continued detention of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk whose case will be heard again on the 19 September 2012 and who can face the maximum penalty of 30 years’ imprisonment. He has been in pre-trial detention for more than a year since the arrest by officials from the Department of Special Investigation in April 2011.
We believe the denial of bail is part of an ongoing pattern of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders in Thailand.
We ask the Thai judicial authorities to ensure that the rights of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk are upheld during his detention and that he is accorded his right to a fair trial, including the right to bail.
We respectfully remind you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and calls on States to ensure that they can carry out their activities without fear of reprisals.
We ask you to ensure that Somyot Prueksakasemsuk is released.
Failing his immediate and unconditional release, we ask that Somyot Prueksakasemsuk be granted his right to bail, in accordance with fair trial standards under domestic and international law; Human rights defenders in Thailand, especially those working on freedom of expression, are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.
This background is part of a Briefing Note prepared by the Thai Labor campaign. For more info, see: freesomyot.wordpress.com
Somyot is known for his tireless efforts in supporting the empowerment of the workers movement and the establishment of democratic trade unionism in Thailand.
Somyot is also the chair of the Union of Democratic Labour Alliance and the leader of the 24th June democracy group. Prior to his arrest, he played an active role in the campaign to repeal the Thailand’s lèse majesté law.
Somyot was detained for 21 days in May – June 2010, charged under lese majeste, Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. The law states, “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”.
According to the Public Prosecutor, Somyot is alleged to have allowed the publication of two articles in the Voice of Taksin that make negative references to the monarchy.
His arrest came only five days after The Democracy Network, in which Somyot is involved, launched a campaign to collect 10,000 signatures to petition for a parliamentary review of Section 112 of the Criminal Code.
Somyot has been arbitrarily detained since 30 April 2011, for a period of 15 uninterrupted months. Requests for his release on bail have been repeatedly rejected by the court, as is the usual practice with lèse majesté suspects. The last request was denied on 18 May 2012, the tenth refusal.
Prolonged pre-trial detention undermines the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, a universal right protected under the Thai Constitution; it also affects Somyot’s and his lawyer’s ability to adequately prepare his defense.
Somyot’s trial started on 21 November and took place in several different provinces of Thailand, despite the fact that all prosecution witnesses work and live in Bangkok. Such practice has been criticised for hindering the full presence and participation of trial observers, diplomatic corps as well as journalists and undermined his right to a fair trial.
Somyot suffers from hypertension and gout. But Somyot was transferred from prison to prison and had to stand up in a crowded truck. His ankles were shackled with a chain weighing 10 kilograms and he was denied access to rest room facilities during the journey. The total distance travelled under such conditions was 4,000 kilometres across the country. He is currently detained in the Bangkok Remand Centre, which is also notorious for its overpopulation and inadequate healthcare.
The witness hearings were completed on 3 May 2012, but the verdict has not yet been issued.
The UN has raised serious concerns regarding the pre-trial detention of those accused of lese majeste and more specifically regarding Somyot’s case. On 9 December 2011, Ravina Shamdasani, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the office is “concerned about the extended periods that accused persons [under lese majeste law] are being held in pre-trial detention”.