Lese Majeste in the Netherlands
Share this on

Lese Majeste in the Netherlands

The Dutch Ambassador, in a personal capacity as a legal expert, in an op-ed in the Bangkok Post on lese majeste in the Netherlands and a new committee set up in Thailand to review the application of lese majeste. Key excerpts:

During the last four decades, the number of acts of lese majeste in general and politically inspired acts of lese majeste more in particular have shown a sharp decline in the Netherlands.

Jurisprudence of the Dutch courts over the last 40 years in this field reveals a pattern of mild sentences in the cases that were actually prosecuted, and not all were.

Further, the penalty usually has been a small fine of a few hundred euros.

Dutch legal scholars have debated whether prosecuting each and every violation of lese majeste law is in the interests of the monarchy as such.

Clearly, sometimes it is not.

It can even be counter-productive, undermining the very institution that lese majeste laws set out to protect.

This is due to the fact that prosecution draws more public attention to the offence (which might in itself be undesirable) as well as to a judicial practice that is considered at odds with the principle of equality under the law – a principle cherished by most democratic societies.

However, it was not until 1994 in a lese majeste case brought before it that the Supreme Court of the Netherlands explicitly carried out what henceforth has become known as the “necessity test” when determining whether a penalty in light of a particular publication is necessary and appropriate. Criticism about the Dutch monarch or her heir-apparent that is considered “a contribution to the public debate” enjoys protection under European and Dutch law, and Dutch courts have applied this criterion faithfully and judiciously ever since, in the interest of freedom of expression in the country.

BP: This is something similar to what the Dutch Ambassador said at a conference at Chulalongkorn at the beginning of December – for some brief details of the conference on cross-country comparisons between the Netherlands, Japan, Norway and Spain see this New Mandala post. Simon Roughneen also attended and wrote an article about the conference for The Irrawaddy. Key excerpt:

Norway is not a European Union member-state, but has “a highly-egalitarian culture” and legal system, according to Her Excellency Mrs Merete Fjeld Brattested. She recounted that the last lese-majeste case taken in Norway was in 1878, and outlined that Norwegian citizens cannot sue each other for this offense.

Only one of Norway’s political parties has any republican leanings, according to Ambassador Brattested, and apparently those are half-hearted as a majority of Norwegians see the royal family as role models and want the country to remain a constitutional monarchy, well over 200 years after the American and French revolutions made republicanism a central tenet of political reform.

BP: Also, see the comments by the Spanish Ambassador. From memory, some figures from numerous opinion polls in the European countries were mentioned. Despite the fact that citizens of those countries are not locked up and branded with a hot iron on the forehead as enemies of the state, the monarchy in those countries is still very popular. One does not need to lock people up for the monarchy to be popular.

btw, in May 2009 the Dutch Ambassador had another op-ed in the Bangkok Post also on lese majeste in direct response Prof.  Bowornsak Uwanno’s 3 part article on lese majeste – see this post for details and links to all.