Media Defence Logo


Protecting freedom of speech in Thailand

Protecting freedom of speech in Thailand

Last year a 62-year old man died in a Thai prison. Ampon Tangnoppakul had been imprisoned simply for sending a text message that was deemed to be insulting to the king. He was charged under the strict lese-majeste laws which make criticising the monarchy a criminal offense. These laws are increasingly being used in tenuous circumstances to clamp down on free speech in Thailand.

Also in prison under the lese-majeste laws is Somyot Preuksakasemsuk, a prominent labour activist and editor of Voice of Taksin (Voice of the Oppressed) magazine. Somyot was arrested in April 2011 for “defaming, insulting and threatening” the king and in January this year was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The articles had been written over a year earlier by a contributor to Voice of Taksin. He is appealing against his conviction but in July he was denied bail for the 15th his original conviction.

Writing from prison Somyot has described the frustration of imprisonment: “I have simply been performing my role as a media person expressing my views independently, spreading the truth, and criticizing society and politics, as much as my basic freedom allows. I have used my profession as a journalist independently hoping to help advance our society and promote equality. I perform my role as a medium to help people to express their views that are useful for society.”

MLDI has supported Somyot’s case through the submission of an Amicus Brief Curiae, which is a means by which interested parties can submit their views on a case being heard in a national or international court, without representing either of the parties in the case. We have argued that the appeal court’s decision went against Thailand’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Commenting on MLDI’s support for the case Nani Jansen said; “Under Thai law you have a right to bail right up until the final decision on your case has been made, even if you are appealing a decision. There have been cases of people being charged with violent crimes who have been granted bail so denial of bail for Somyot suggests something more political at play.”

Speaking ahead of the last hearing, Somyot’s wife Sukanya described why international support for her husband’s case was so important: “Here, the media is constantly promoting the monarchy and positioning them as a loyal member of our own families. It is hard for people to understand why being able to criticize the monarchy is an important right. Because of lese-majeste people are scared to show support for Somyot’s case so it is hard for me to get support for my husband’s case domestically. Having the voice of international organisations like MLDI on our side is an important message to the Thai authorities.”

Recent Case Studies

Digital Rights Advocates: Interview with Zambian Lawyer Michelle Mwiinga

Welcome to the Digital Rights Advocates Blog Series, where we hear from lawyers litigating digital rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Digital rights have become indispensable for people around the world to exercise and enjoy their fundamental rights. Independent media is increasingly moving online – from established newspapers and television channels to bloggers and human rights activists […]


Partners: How Human Rights Platform Has Used Strategic Litigation to Defend Press Freedom in Ukraine

Since 2017, Media Defence has worked in partnership with the Human Rights Platform (HRP), to provide legal defence to journalists and independent media in Ukraine and conduct strategic litigation on press freedom and freedom of expression. During the grant period, threats and attacks against journalists in Ukraine remained high. In particular, HRP noted an increase […]


Partners: Hanifi Baris of TOHAV on Defending Press Freedom in Turkey

Welcome to the latest instalment of our ‘Partners’ blog series. In this series, we interview some of our partners from around the world about their crucial and fascinating work in freedom of expression. This time, our Legal and Grants Officer Emmanuel Vargas spoke to lawyer Hanifi Baris of TOHAV (Toplum ve Hukuk Araştırmaları Vakfı/Foundation for […]