Three years ago a Thai activist known as "Da Torpedo" for her inspiring speeches was sentenced to 18 years for insulting the king. But now, after months of activism, an appeals court has overturned the case.
There are many to thank for this victory: A Safe World for Women first took up the case back in November when the appeal was receiving little publicity, and the Asian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and a number of local rights groups all worked together to pile on the pressure.
But this is not over, folks. The charge against Da Torpedo has not been dropped, and even if the Constitutional Court agrees with Da Torpedo's lawyers, it will then be up to the prosecution whether or not to request a new trial. A Safe World for Women is closely following further developments and, if necessary, will start up another campaign on behalf of Da Torpedo.
Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul is known in Thailand as Da Torpedo, for being outspoken. She was arrested on 22nd July, 2008, age 46, for speaking out against royalty - a serious crime in Thailand, called Lese Majeste.
Da Torpedo was held for a year without charge and then, in August 2008, she was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment.
"The lese majeste law, as is currently applied in the last three years, has been used for the suppression of free speech for largely political purposes and not for the protection of the monarchy, for which the law was drafted,"
Benjamin Zawacki, South-east Asia researcher for Amnesty International is quoted as saying.
The AHRC is not aware of another case in recent times in which a defendant has been treated as such an extraordinary threat over a question of free expression. We believe that she was treated in this manner because she chose to fight the charges, rather than plead guilty and seek a royal pardon...
The Asian Human Right Committee wrote in an open letter on September 4th 2009:
The situation in Thailand is of sufficient importance not only because it has worsened considerably in recent years but also because the country has a strong influence on developments in the wider Southeast Asian region, being among the larger and more developed of its peers and a key member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. If nothing is done to arrest its continued decline on a range of human rights indicators then the effects will be damaging not only for Thailand but for the region as a whole.
Over the last 2 years, the Press Freedom Index rating of Thailand has declined from 124 to 153, fast approaching that of Burma, at 174.
This should be of concern to us all.
Da Torpedo is a symbol of an ever-growing suppression of human rights in parts of Asia.
We need to send a strong message to the government of Thailand that the world will not stand by while another 'Burma situation' develops.
Please sign this petition to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Independence of Judges and Lawyers to request their urgent intervention on behalf of Darunee Chanchoengsilapakul and also to raise concerns about the steadily declining freedom of expression and increasing politicization of the judiciary in Thailand.