DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER
15 NOVEMBER 2015
Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong
On 23 February 2015, student activists Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong (f) were each sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating Thailand’s ‘lèse-majesté’ law. The charge of ‘lèse-majesté’ criminalises alleged insult of the monarchy under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, and is commonly used to silence peaceful dissent. The case against Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong relates to their involvement in staging a play about a fictional monarch, The Wolf’s Bride (‘Jao Sao Ma Pa’) at Thammasat University in October 2013. The pair has been in detention since their arrest in mid-August 2014, after being repeatedly refused bail, and pleaded guilty in December 2014 in order to reduce their sentence. PEN International considers Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong to be imprisoned in violation of Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party.
Patiwat Saraiyaem is a 23 year-old fifth year student and an activist in the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at Khon Kaen University, and the Secretary General of the Student Federation of the North East. Pornthip Munkong is a 26-year-old recent graduate of the Faculty of Political Science at Ramkhamhaeng University, as well as a political activist. Both acted as major characters in a performance of a play titled The Wolf’s Bride, which took place on 13 October 2013 in the Auditorium of Thammasat University to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 14 October Popular Uprising. The play, which was organised by former members of the now-defunct Prakai Fai Karn Lakorn, part of the left-leaning Prakai Fai (‘Sparking Fire’) theatre group, dramatised the story of a fictional king and his advisor in a fantasy kingdom. While the show was performed only once at the school, it was recorded and shared on social media.
Saraiyaem was arrested on 14 August 2014 and Munkong was arrested the following day. Both were charged with lèse majesté under Article 112, a law that protects the royal family from any perceived insults. During their detention, they were denied bail several times and on 29 December 2014 both pleaded guilty in order to reduce their sentences; the defendants expected the court to suspend the jail terms after their confessions. However, Bangkok’s Criminal Court sentenced them to five years in prison, reduced to two and a half years on 23 February 2015. The judges stated that: “performing the play … was an act of defamation and insult in front of numerous people…. Moreover, it was disseminated on many websites, causing damage to the monarchy, which is revered by all Thais [sic.]. Such action is a grave crime that warrants no suspension of the punishment.” Saraiyaem and Munkong have not and will not appeal the sentence, according to their lawyers, owing to fears of further punishment and ill-treatment Munkong is currently being held in the Central Women’s Prison in Bangkok, while Saraiyaem is being held in Bangkok Remand Prison..
Thailand’s lèse majesté laws are among the world’s strictest laws against insult and have been remained unchanged since 1908. According to Article 112 of the Thai criminal code, any person who ‘defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent’ will be punished with up to 15 years in prison. Since the military seized power in May 2014 through a coup, the number of trials and detentions related to lèse majesté offences has significantly increased in order to silence dissent.
The Thai monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has been on the throne for six decades and is given an almost god-like status by many Thais. Since the introduction of a constitutional monarchy in 1932, Thailand has been a hotbed of political instability, experiencing alternating periods of democracy and military rule. Popularly known as the ’14 October Event’, the 14 October 1973 uprising was led by student activists. While it was initially crushed by the army, it ultimately resulted in the end of 26-year military dictatorship. In May 2014, Thailand underwent its 12th successful military coup d’état following almost seven months of escalating political violence. The coup imposed martial law and a curfew, dissolved the Senate – the only remaining national government body with elected members – and granted wide-ranging executive and legislative powers to its military leaders. In the wake of the coup, tight control of the media was imposed; many television and radio stations were shut down and journalists and academics arrested. Martial law was finally revoked in March 2015.
UN human rights mechanisms have repeatedly clarified that criminal defamation and insult laws, including lèse-majesté laws, are incompatible with international standards on free expression. In 2011, the then UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue called on Thailand to reform its lèse-majesté laws. He said, “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, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”
Please send appeals:
- Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of students Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong, as they are held for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in contravention of Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party;
- Reiterating serious concern for the safety of writers, academics and activists in Thailand, who are at risk of attack and imprisonment solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions;
- Urging the authorities to amend the Criminal Code, in particular the lèse-majesté law, to ensure that it meets Thailand’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression.
Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit
Fax: 011 66 2 282-5131
Salutation: Your Excellency
Please also send copies of your appeals to the Thai Embassy in your country. Addresses may be found at this link: http://www.thaiembassy.org/main/
Please send messages of support to Pornthip Munkhong and Patiwat Saraiyaem in prison:
Central Women’s Prison
33/3 Ngamwongwan Road
Lad Yao, Chatuchak
Bangkok Remand Prison
33 Ngamwongwan Road
Lad Yao, Chatuchak
PEN members are encouraged to:
- Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the Thai students’ case.
- Their prison writings are available for publication:
- Organise public events, stage readings, press conferences or demonstrations.
- Share information about Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pronthip Munkong and your campaigning activities for them via social media
Social Media: Please use the hashtag #ImprisonedWriter
- #Thailand release Patiwat Saraiyaem & Pornthip Munkong for play ’ insulting’ king #ImprisonedWriter @pen_int
- On Day of the #ImprisonedWritertake action for writers resisting repression of their basic human right to #FOE
Please let us know about your activities and to send us a report about them by 15 December 2015 so that we can share them with other Centres.
For further details please contact Emma Wadsworth-Jones at PEN International London Office: PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London SE1 2AN Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 email: firstname.lastname@example.org