Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thailand: Grandfather sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for anti-monarchy text messages

Thailand: Grandfather sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for anti-monarchy text messages

Amphon Tangnoppaku, also known as Ar Kong, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison on 23 November 2011 by a Thai criminal court for sending four text messages deemed as insulting against the Queen of Thailand. This is the heaviest sentence ever handed down for a lèse-majesté case.

Amphon was convicted for violating both the lèse-majesté law (Article 112 of the Penal Code) and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, but was sentenced under the lèse-majesté law which allows for heavier penalties. Amphon is to serve, consecutively, five years imprisonment for each text message. Amphon was accused of sending these text messages to the personal secretary of ex-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva during the street protests in May 2010.

“This verdict is shocking and shows the Thai authorities’ complete disregard for freedom of expression,” says Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. “We were encouraged last month when the government admitted that the use of the lèse-majesté law can adversely affect freedom of expression, however this latest development proves those words to be empty. We are saddened for Amphon and this extreme injustice.”

During Thailand’s human rights review before the United Nations Human Rights Council last month, ARTICLE 19, and a number countries including France and Norway publicly stated that the lèse-majesté law, by its very existence, constitutes a threat to legitimate political expression and freedom of expression. Many other nations including Indonesia and Brazil expressed concerns and recommended reform of the laws.

ARTICLE 19 is also alarmed about the lack of reliable or compelling legal evidence in this conviction. Although the judge conceded that the technical evaluation of evidence could not conclusively incriminate Amphon, the court proceeded to find him guilty.

Since his arrest on 3 August 2010, Amphon has been detained without bail and will likely be moved to a high penalty prison on Friday 25 November 2011. ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned about Amphon’s welfare, as he suffers from laryngeal cancer and lacks access to proper medical treatment.

ARTICLE 19 calls for the immediate reversal of Amphon’s conviction and for his immediate release. Whilst under government authority, Amphon must be given proper medical care to ensure his well-being. Furthermore, ARTICLE 19 continues to call for the lèse-majesté law to be repealed and for the Computer Crimes Act to be brought in accordance with the Thai constitution and international standards.

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