Editor sentenced for publishing defamatory article

somyotBangkok – A Thailand criminal court today sentenced Somyot Pruekasemsuk, editor of a political magazine, to eleven years of imprisonment for publishing two articles in 2010 deemed defamatory to the country’s monarchy.

Somyot was sentenced to 5 years for each count of violating Article 112 of the Penal Code, otherwise known as the lese majeste law, which prohibits acts of insulting, defaming or threatening Thailand’s king, heir apparent or Regent.

He received an additional year for a previous suspended sentence on a separate defamation case in 2009.

The court dismissed Somyot’s defence that he was not the writer of the said articles, and jailed him for publishing the articles as editor of the magazine Voice of Taksin magazine, which supported ousted prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

This decision extends the responsibility of editors over content of their publication, if found to be violating the Penal Code.

Sentencing for liability on content written someone else is similar to the judgement received by Chiranuch Premchaiporn on May 2012, who was found guilty of violating the Computer-related Crimes Act of 2007. She received a two-year suspended sentence “for not being fast enough” in taking down lese majeste comments in an online forum.

Somyot’s lawyers argued that Thailand’s Printing Act of 2007 (B.E. 2550) relieved editors of liability for such content, and instead put the responsibility on the writers. However, the court said that this does not absolve him of any wrong doing under the Penal Code.

Ironically, charges have not been filed against the writer of the articles, who was revealed by Somyot during the trial to be Thaksin adviser Jakraphob Penkair.

The court said that although the king’s name was not mentioned in the articles, the content of the articles could lead readers to identify the king as the person being referred to.

A similar verdict for implicit defamation of the monarchy was handed down last week in the case of red-shirt leader Yossawarit Chuklom, who was sentenced to two years in prison for a speech made during a protest in 2010.

According to a New York Times article on the Yossawarit case, the court ruled that “Even though the defendant did not identify His Majesty the King directly” the speech “cannot be interpreted in any other way”.

Somyot’s sentencing came after 20 months of remand detention of Somyot, during which all his appeals for bail were denied by authorities fearing that he would jump bail.

SEAPA Executive Director Gayathry Venkiteswaran described the sentence as “disproportionate” noting that Somyot was not the person who wrote the article.

Gayathry added that “putting the liability on the editor also highlights the problematic application of the lese majeste law,” as pointed out by international human rights bodies. (Image source: Prachatai)