By Dake Kang and Kaweewit Kaewjinda, AP
BANGKOK — Thailand’s Supreme Court has upheld but reduced the jail sentence of a magazine editor who is currently the longest-serving prisoner convicted of lese majeste — insulting the monarchy.
The court on Thursday cut to seven years the 11-year sentence given in 2011 to Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, who was the editor of a magazine found to have published two articles deemed insulting to the Thai royal family. Because Somyot has already served almost six years, he will be released in 2018.
Thailand has come under increasing criticism for its lese majeste law, which mandates three to 15 years in jail for “whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent.” Critics say it is used as a political tool used to jail opponents of the country’s ruling junta.
Somyot, who is also a prominent labor activist, was arrested only after he launched a petition to revoke the lese majeste law a year after the articles were published in 2010. Critics say his case was politically motivated. In addition to serving two five-year terms for lese majeste, he also was serving an additional year for defaming an army general who helped lead a successful 2006 military coup against elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
“Although we stand by the fact that he is not guilty, I am relatively happy with the court’s verdict,” said his wife, Sukanya Pruksakasemsuk, adding she had not expected her husband’s jail time to be cut.
Human-rights group Amnesty International said in a statement by Audrey Gaughran, its director of global issues and research, that the court’s ruling did not go far enough, because upholding Somyot’s conviction “only perpetuates the profound injustice he is suffering.”
It quoted her as saying the ruling “underscores the extent to which the Thai authorities are repeatedly violating their obligations under international law to uphold the right to freedom of expression, including through their relentless enforcement of the oppressive lese majeste law.”
In a packed courtroom, a teary-eyed Sukanya embraced her husband after a judge read out the ruling. As he left the courthouse, Somyot flashed the three-finger “Hunger Games” salute, popularized in Thailand as a gesture of resistance after another coup in 2014.
Somyot was originally convicted for publishing two pseudonymous articles in his now-defunct Voice of Thaksin magazine, which he launched in 2009 to compile political news and anti-establishment pieces from dissidents. Judges found the articles in question contained content that defamed the monarchy, though neither explicitly named members of the royal family.
In explaining Thursday’s ruling, the court acknowledged that Somyot was only the editor of the articles, not their writer.