Ahead of the elections, ARTICLE 19 has called on Thai authorities to drop all charges against activists under Sections 112 and 116 of the Thai Criminal Code. The new government should take decisive steps to repeal the vague and overbroad lèse-majesté and sedition provisions within the Criminal Code and the Computer-Related Crimes Act .
Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, which criminalises defamation, insults, and threats to members of the monarchy, has been called the harshest lèse-majesté law in the world: punishable with minimum of 3 and maximum of 15 years in prison. The crime of sedition, set out in Section 116, carries a penalty of up to 7 years’ imprisonment. The Computer-Related Crimes Act (CCA) has been used in conjunction with the Criminal Code to compound penalties.
Section 112 does not comply with international human rights standards. While the right to freedom of expression can be limited to protect the reputation of others, criminal penalties are never a proportionate penalty for reputational damage. Moreover, laws offering special protection to heads of state and high-ranking public officials go against the fundamental democratic principle that the government is subject to public scrutiny. The independent human rights experts of the United Nations have ‘repeatedly emphasised that lèse-majesté laws have no place in a democratic country’.
Despite this, since 2020, hundreds have been charged under Section 112 – many of them for acts such as organising and participating in a Facebook Live debate, posting an online poll or speaking at a rally. In January 2023, one student activist was sentenced to 28 years in prison over 14 Facebook posts.
David Diaz-Jogeix, ARTICLE 19’s Senior Director for Programmes, said:
‘One of the core aspects of freedom of expression is that no public official should be beyond criticism. And yet, in the past few years, Thai authorities have used Section 112 to silence voices which demand public scrutiny of authorities.’
‘The continuing use of Section 112 has created an incredibly restrictive environment in Thailand, where even a mention of a key political institution – the monarchy – can result in a lengthy prison sentence. This matters particularly in the lead up to the elections, as those who could be using their voices to speak up for democracy might choose to stay silent out of fear of prosecution.’
‘With hundreds of people facing the prospect of years behind bars, we’re calling on Thai authorities to drop all charges against activists under Sections 112 and 116. The new government must take on the issue of Section 112 as a matter of priority – it is time that this archaic law is repealed.’
ARTICLE 19 has repeatedly called for Section 112 to be repealed in its entirety. Our 2021 briefing ‘Breaking the Silence: Thailand’s renewed use of lèse-majesté charges’ detailed the authorities’ use of Section 112 to suppress the pro-democracy protest movement; we did this again in our 2021 submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Thailand before the UN Human Rights Council. Following the review, 6 countries recommended the review or repeal of Section 112.
In 2022, our Thailand: Denying the Demand for Democracy report, part of the global #FreeToProtest campaign, has highlighted how Section 112 and Section 116 were used to restrict and repress protest, as youth-led pro-democracy movements in Thailand took to the streets to demand democratic and constitutional reform, including the abolition of the lèse-majesté law, and wholesale reform of the monarchy.