UN expert urges Thailand to amend royal insult laws

10th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

A UN expert on Monday urged Thailand to amend its controversial lese majeste laws, saying a recent increase in legal cases highlights the urgent need for reforms.

"I urge Thailand to hold broad-based public consultations to amend section 112 of the penal code and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act so that they are in conformity with the country's international human rights obligations," said Frank La Rue, special rapporteur on freedom of expression.

"The recent spike in lese majeste cases pursued by the police and the courts shows the urgency to amend them," he added in a statement.

La Rue said such laws "encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression."

"This is exacerbated by the fact that the charges can be brought by private individuals and trials are often closed to the public," he said, adding that the laws are also "vague and overly broad."

Under Thai legislation, anybody convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.

Academics have noted a sharp increase of new royal insult cases in recent years and rights groups have expressed concern that the law was used to suppress freedom of expression under the previous government.

Earlier Monday, a US citizen Joe Wichai Commart Gordon pleaded guilty in a Thai court on Monday to charges of insulting the monarchy.

He was arrested in May during a holiday in the kingdom and accused of posting a link to a translation of a banned book -- an unauthorised biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej -- on his blog, along with other material deemed offensive, while living in the US.

© 2011 AFP

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