TRCT recommends amending lese majeste lawBy Bangkok Pundit Jan 01, 2012 10:00PM UTC
The Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) in its report to the government as presented in September – English summary here and Thai language document list can be viewed here. Then AFP reported the Government spokeswoman Titima Chaisang as stating that “[t]he cabinet received recommendations and in order to create an atmosphere for reconciliation and in line with the rule of law… the government agrees to review all criminal charges and lese majeste cases to ensure fair investigations”. Then there was a second interim report which was released in December 2011. A copy of the report in Thai with an English summary is available here. See BP’s post about this here.
Now, TRCT have released their recommendations which they sent to the Prime Minister on December 30. For now it is in Thai only and BP has uploaded a copy here (obtained from e-mail by TRCT). The Bangkok Post states that in regards to lese majeste, TRCT do not recommend abolishing, but amending the law. The rationale is as follows:
In a letter sent to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday, TRC chairman Kanit na Nakorn said abolishing Article 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law, as called for by some people would not be appropriate to Thai society.
However, to maintain the law as it is would not be proper either because it leaves no other option but prosecution for anybody who is accused.
The Nation has summarized the proposed amendments in regards to Section 112 of the Criminal Code (lese majeste):
First, the lese majeste clause should stipulate that power of attorney is required to activate prosecution proceedings, in lieu of a mandatory review by public prosecutors.
Second, the Lord Chamberlain, a position appointed at the royal discretion, should be entrusted with the responsibility to decide on the power of attorney for each case.
Third, the penalties for insulting royalty should be reduced.
Fourth, in the TRCT’s view, the maximum jail term should not exceed seven years with or without a fine of no more than Bt14,000.
Fifth, Article 112 should be amended along with Article 133 prescribing the protection of foreign heads of state. The amended Article 133 should prescribe imprisonment of no more than three years with or without a fine of no more than Bt6,000.
BP: This would be a significant change from the status quo. In theory, it should make it significantly easier to get bail (as now a jail term is no longer automatic)* and there is now a reasonable chance that a fine and/or suspended sentence is the maximum penalty that many people will face particularly if you plead guilty. Also, if cases can only be activated with the permission of the Lord Chamberlain, the number of prosecutions would drop significantly. BP doesn’t think a change in the short term is likely as there is another committee in the works. The Nation:
In a related development, a National Human Rights Commission-appointed panel has formed a 13-member task force to review the lese majeste clause and the computer law.
The task force, led by activist Jon Ungphakorn, is scheduled to complete its report on June 16, 2012.
Jon’s task force is entrusted to come up with recommendations on whether the enforcement of Article 112 has infringed on human rights, and if so, how to rectify it.
National Human Rights Commission member Niran Pitakwatchara said the agency had received many complaints related to Article 112 since he took up the position, especially in the past two years.
“We have to examine the issue to make sure everything goes according to the law and prevent [the article's] use as a political tool,” Niran said.
BP: BP imagines the task force will send its recommendation to the NHRC who will then forward it on so it may take a couple of weeks beyond June 16 , but if this committee comes to a similar conclusion, the government will have significant political cover to amend the lese majeste law in line with the TRCT’s recommendation – the Lord Chamberlain would need to be willing as well. It is important to note that the Kanit committee was set up by the Abhisit government and the NHRC was not appointed by a Thaksin-aligned government. The reality is – given the accusations that the reds and Thaksin want to overthrow the monarchy – that no amendment to the law can happen without such political cover.
The Computer Crimes Act needs to be amended as well otherwise it can just be used instead (i.e if amend 112 and need Lord Chamberlain’s permission, but if no such permission is needed for prosecutions under Computer Crimes Act then well not much will have changed given must lese majeste content is in regards to speech online which can be offence against Section 112 and the Computer Crimes Act). Given the changing attitudes about lese majeste law particularly by royalists, such amendments would not longer be considered outside the mainstream (yes, Prayuth won’t like it). Failure by the government to act in 2012, after the NHRC report comes out and assuming it is similar to the TRCT recommendations, would mean that Puea Thai (and the reds if they also don’t get behind such amendments) are all talk on freedom of speech and little action. Will 2012 be the year of change? Or just mere rhetoric?
* Currently, it is possible that someone could get a suspended sentence. In Thailand, BP understands a suspended sentence can be given for 2 years or less jail time so if someone pleads guilty and was to get the minimum of three years that would be reduced to 1.5 years because of the guilty plea and this could be suspended, but BP is not aware of any such instances like this.