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Thailand: Bangkok Post ” UN rapporteur says Thais need freedom of expression “

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The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, who in October recommended the government amend its law on lese majeste, visited Thailand in a private capacity this week. He told ACHARA ASHAYAGACHAT why it is important that people can speak freely.

Frank La Rue: ‘Net curbs a mistake’

How do you feel about recent developments regarding the lese majeste debate in Thailand?

I don’t want to comment about Thailand but in the world, I can tell you that, for instance, the Arab Spring, for me, is a consequence of freedom of expression in a way.

It’s not the internet revolution as many people said. It is a movement of young people who use the internet to express their opinion and to mobilise people which has scared many politicians.

And what worries me is that many of them want to limit the use of internet.

That would be a mistake. Everyone should be happy that there’s an instrument that can be used to strengthen democracy and get rid of protracted authoritarian governments.

How is Thailand faring compared to other countries in the region when it comes to freedom of expression?

I never compare nations. The only comparison that is valid is for a country to ask itself whether it improving or not.

Are you disappointed that your request for an official visit to Thailand has yet to be finalised?

Let me put it in a positive way. I’ve been here many times and I am delighted, very much engaged with the press here.

I would like to come to Thailand on an official visit and look at freedom of expression in all its forms: freedom of cultural expression, peaceful assembly, protection of journalists, access to information, everything. That would be interesting.

How would you respond to an argument that Thailand does not have any problem about freedom of expression?

We don’t look at the issue [of freedom of expression] as a problem. We look at it because it’s important in terms of democracy.

A rapporteur’s job is not to criticise the government. He is there to support the government in improving the standard of human rights and democracy.

Still, why should the issue of freedom of expression be a priority for Thailand?

It should be a major priority of any country including Thailand. Freedom of expression is a thing that is directly affiliated to democracy. [Other] human rights issues are equally important but in the case of democracy, freedom of expression is a key to facilitating the essence of democracy _ the freedom and liberty of the people.

Some people here interpreted your suggestion that Thailand amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code and the Computer Crime Act [governing lese majeste] as the United Nations interfering in our domestic political affairs. What would you say to that?

I made a statement regarding the lese majeste legislation in Thailand. And I stand by [my recommendation] to the Human Rights Commission. This is not an intervention. Human rights is a universal issue for all modern, civilised and democratic countries, and only those which want to move backward to an undemocratic regime will reject them.

The beauty of human rights is that it’s exactly the same standard for every country _ there’s no special treatment because human dignity is the same across the world.

There is no reason why you would have an argument of that nature unless people want to avoid responsibility to [uphold] the standard.

Have you been in contact with Thai authorities since you made the statement?

No, but I will have a conversation with the House and Senate [during my two-day stay.] I’ll be in Geneva next month for a panel meeting and would be delighted to meet the [Thai] mission.

When would you like to return to Thailand for an official visit?

It should be some time this year. This is my third informal visit since 2010.


Bangkok Post, 12 January 2012

Published: 12/01/2012 at 12:00 AM

Newspaper section: News