(New York) - The Thai authorities should immediately investigate the murder of a prominent poet and "Red Shirt" political activist widely known for his opposition to Thailand's law banning criticism of the monarchy, Human Rights Watch said today.
On April 23, 2014, at about 2 p.m., an unidentified gunman fired five times at Kamol Duangphasuk, 45, who was in his car at a restaurant parking lot in Bangkok's Lad Phrao district. The gunman escaped on a getaway motorcycle. Kamol was struck twice in the chest and later died in the hospital.
"The brutal and outrageous killing of poet and Red Shirt activist Kamol can only worsen the already tense political situation in Thailand," said Brad Adams, Asia director. "The Thai authorities need to quickly investigate this murder and bring whoever is responsible to justice - wherever that investigation leads."
Kamol, known by his penname "Mai Nueng Kor Kunthee," was widely recognized for his poetry since the late 1980s. He strongly opposed the 2006 military coup and the subsequent crackdown on critics of the monarchy. Kamol took part in many rallies of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the "Red Shirts," and he called himself a "Red Shirts poet." After the government's violent crackdown on the UDD in 2010, he helped organize a gathering outside the Bangkok criminal court every Sunday to talk about the plight of those prosecuted on lese majeste (criticism of the monarchy) charges and push for amnesty for political prisoners.
Kamol's murder is the latest violent attack on activists and academics known to be critical of the monarchy and the lese majeste law.
On February 12, 2014, assailants fired repeated shots and threw homemade bombs at the home and car of Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a history professor at Thammasat University who is an outspoken critic of the monarchy. Somsak was at home but was not harmed in the attack.
Two years ago, on February 29, 2012, law professor Worachet Pakeerut, who had called for an amendment to Thailand's lese majeste law, was assaulted by two men outside Thammasat University's law school. The assailants punched Worachet several times in the face and broke his eyeglasses.
Ultra-royalist groups, and many military commanders, senior government officials, and politicians from all sides, consider critical comments against the lese majeste law and any call to amend or revoke the law as disloyal to the monarchy. Article 112 of the penal code states that "Whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, the heir-apparent or the regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years." People charged with lese majeste offenses are routinely denied bail and often remain in prison for many months awaiting trial. In most cases, convictions result in harsh sentences. The recently formed pro-monarchy Garbage Collection Organization publicly referred to those accused of committing lese majeste offenses as "garbage" and vowed to "exterminate" all of them, saying freedom of expression and academic freedom do not justify negative comments about the monarchy.
Human Rights Watch has long raised concerns about the devastating impact on freedom of expression caused by the enforcement of lese majeste laws, and the ease with which the lese majeste law has been used for political purposes by the authorities.
Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej has publicly stated that he is not above criticism. In his 2005 birthday speech he said, "Actually, I must also be criticized. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know. Because if you say the King cannot be criticized, it means that the King is not human. If the King can do no wrong, it is akin to looking down upon him because the King is not being treated as a human being. But the King can do wrong."
"Kamol's murder heightens the climate of fear felt by those who speak out against Thailand's draconian lese majeste law," Adams said. "The Thai authorities need to find Kamol's killer, and also urgently move to amend the law prohibiting criticism of the monarchy, and permit an environment in which all topics are open to discussion."