Thai courts under fire for "60-year" treason jail terms

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OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani. Photo: UN Multimedia

Thai authorities faced a call Tuesday to reform the country's treason laws amid a sharp rise in the number and severity of sentencing for people found guilty of the offence.

Violating Thailand's so-called lèse-majesté law led to a 60-year prison sentence for one defendant who criticised the Thai monarchy on a social media site, the UN says.

The spike in treason cases follows a military coup in the country in May last year, according to the UN's human rights office, OHCHR.

Daniel Johnson has more.

In one recent trial for treason, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, says that a Thai military court handed down a 60-year jail term to a defendant who'd criticised the monarchy on the Internet.

The sentence was commuted to 30 years, but only after travel agent Phongsak Sribunpeng pleaded guilty.

That case is only one of what the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is calling a series of "shockingly disproportionate prison terms" for people exercising their right to free speech.

Here's OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani:

"We didn't see sentences like this before, I mean 50 years, 60 years, which are then commuted due to a guilty plea…certainly a lot of pressure is applied on them to make their guilty pleas, and then they plead guilty and that then leads to them not being eligible for appeal…and the only option is a pardon by the king."

Before the military coup in May 2014, the UN human rights office says that just five people were held on treason charges.

But in the past 15 months that number has risen to 40.

Shamdasani said that the treason charge is used far too arbitrarily in Thailand.

And she added that the country's military courts fell "far short" of international fair trial standards, not just when it came to judging cases of treason.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 1'18"


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