<Interview & Comments>
Sukunya Prueksakasemsuk, wife of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk – the lèse majesté convictee –
As Somyot’s case to be brought to Appeal Court on April 1, stiff debate on the Printing Act predicted
by Lee Yu Kyung / Bangkok
She is gentle pretty, listening to patiently and soft spoken but articulates things while conversation. “I’m a hot temper, comparing to my husband” argued Ms. Sukunya Prueksakasemsuk however, wife of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, who’s been in jail ever since he was arrested on April 30, 2011. It was days after he launched a petition campaign to collect 10,000 signatures required for a parliamentary review of the draconian lèse-majesté law.
Somyot himself has become lèse majesté convictee afterward. On January 23, the Thai Criminal Court sentenced him 11 years in prison including one year for a defamation charge. The rest of ten years are for the two articles which are deemed to violate Article 112 (lèse-majesté). The life-long activist is now a decade-long prisoner. The verdict has provoked world-wide condemnations including European Union and prominent human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch.
“Everyone said I should stop fighting and Somyot should plead guilty and wait royal pardon” said Sukunya. She admitted the fight the case of lèse majesté, which is often categorized as a matter of national security in Thailand, is not an easy task at all. Yet she, let alone Somyot, is determined to fight. When asked if she ever felt regret about Somyot’s decision to fight the case rather than seeking a royal pardon, she straightforwardly replied “No”. “He hasn’t done anything wrong” she said.
The two articles that brought criminal charge to Somyot were not written by him. But they appeared on by-weekly magazine ‘Voice of Thaksin’ in February and March editions in 2010, for which Somyot was an editor. On May 1st 2010, Somyot has revealed that the author of the articles was Jakrapop Penkair, the former Prime Minister’s Office minister now living in exile. The Magazine has been forcibly shut down by the previous Democrat-led coalition government.
“Two articles were more like columns containing fictional contents. They were part of serial publication under the title of ‘Kom Kwan Kit’ (‘Think Sharp’). This column section was launched much earlier before Somyot assumed editor’s position in 2009. The writer for ‘Kom Kwan Kit’ was assigned to fill the column with his/her columns as a contributor. So, it wasn’t touched off by editor whosoever including Somyot, who respects freedom of expression.” Sukunya detailed.
It is crucial to note that the nature of this kind of serial publication is more free-styled by the very author. Accordingly it has enjoyed much of the freedom of expression than the other pieces such as cover story or general news, which items are normally pre-discussed by executive board and commissioned to staff writers or so. Therefore, it’s not always presumable that the editor Somyot has an intention to publish those particular columns which are in trouble now. In fact he has insisted that he did not intend to publish.
Nevertheless, the Judge on January 23 has emphasized on Somyot’s responsibility as an editor. It was reminiscence of another lèse majesté case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, a director of the alternative outlet Prachatai.com. She was found guilty for comments on website forum that she did not write, just but was lazy to delete.
“The accused is a journalist who had a duty to check the facts in these articles before publishing them. He knew the content defamed the monarchy but allowed their publication anyway”.
This is what The Judge for Somyot’s case stated.
Obviously, the verdict focused on ‘editor’s responsibility’ than that of the author, which indicates that the Judge intended to question ‘indirect accountability’. But that is not stated in the ambiguous Article 112 at all. The Article 112 reads :
“Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years”
If the Judge wants to reason the conviction of Somyot based on ‘editor’s accountability’, then it may be more rational to apply the Printing Act to this case. Undeniably the Printing Act, which protects editor from being responsible for the others’ articles, is strongly relevant to Somyot’s case as long as the Court would insist yet again ‘editor’s accountability’ than the direct person to defame Royal Family. However this argument has been ignored by the Judge who has insisted that the Printing Act did not apply to lèse majesté charges.
“It’s like there is no law proper to charge Somyot, when it comes to editor’s role. If there’s no law, then you cannot charge anyone. This is guaranteed by our Constitution” said Sukunya.
In that regard, the Article 39 of Thai Constitution 2007 could be valued as it states :
“No person shall be inflicted with a criminal punishment unless he or she has committed an act which the law in force at the time of commission provides to be an offense and imposes a punishment, and the punishment to be inflicted on such a person shall not be heavier than that provided by the law in force at the time of committing the offense. The suspect or the accused in a criminal case shall be presumed innocent. Before passing of a final judgement convicting a person for committing an offense, such a person shall not be treated as a convict”.
Somyot has decided to bring his trial to the Appeal Court with a new lawyer Vasant Panich. Vasant Panich, the former National Human Rights commissioner, will submit more evidences and call for more witnesses coming Monday (April 1) while seeking a bail out Somyot, whose bail was rejected for 13 times.
According to the Nation report on Thursday, Vasant Panich was described as a staunch critic of Thaksin Shinawatra. But the lawyer said in that report that his decision to represent Somyot was a matter of principle, as he believed the man is innocent and should at least be granted bail. He was quotes as saying :
“I may disagree with many things related to Thaksin, but people can think differently”.
He further went on to say that he does not see anything that violates the lèse majesté in the articles.
Whether or not the new lawyer was a staunch critic of Thaksin, what the lawyer said in the Nation report signals that the Somyot’s case, which probably was politically motivated in the first place, has a turning point to uphold fundamental values of human rights and freedom of expression.
“It would be even more bitter if he gives up, because he is a person who has committed to democracy and human rights for his whole life. He has a strong spirit. No matter how long he may have to stay in prison..11 years or 15 years or.., it’s neither acceptable for him to give up, nor impossible” Sukunya articulated.