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UN expert urges reform of Thai royal insult laws

A UN expert on freedom of speech called for Thailand to tone down laws that prohibit defamation of the country`s royal family.

Geneva: A UN expert on freedom of speech
called for Thailand to tone down laws that prohibit defamation of the country`s royal family, saying the legislation and
punishments involved may violate an international rights

The statement by Frank La Rue came on the day an American
man appeared shackled in a Bangkok court to plead guilty to
charges of defaming the royal family.

Thai-born American Joe Gordon faces up to 15 years in jail
for translating excerpts of a locally banned biography of
Thailand`s King Bhumibol Adulyadej and posting them online.
La Rue, the UN`s independent expert on freedom of opinion
and expression, said yesterday the country`s lese majeste laws
were vague and the punishments overly harsh.

"The threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of
what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or
threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifle
important debates on matters of public interest," La Rue said.

"This is exacerbated by the fact that the charges can be
brought by private individuals and trials are often closed to
the public," he added.

La Rue said that under the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights, which Thailand has been a party to since
1996, countries are allowed to impose only very clear and
limited exceptions to free speech, such as to protect the
reputation of individuals and safeguard national security.

"The Thai penal code and the Computer Crimes Act do not
meet these criteria," he said. "The laws are vague and overly
broad, and the harsh criminal sanctions are neither necessary
nor proportionate to protect the monarchy or national

Thailand`s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Sihasak
Phuangketkeow, said the government was conscious of the
problem raised by the UN expert.

"The monarchy is a very important institution it`s the
pillar of stability and unity in Thailand. But we are aware of
the concerns," he said, adding that a committee had been
appointed to advise the government on how to better implement
the law.


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