Kasetsart graduate is Thailand’s latest lese majeste arrest
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Kasetsart graduate is Thailand’s latest lese majeste arrest

Friday saw a 23-year-old man become the latest Thai citizen to be arrested on lese majeste charges, said to have defamed the country’s monarchy, following entries to his blog while he was a student at Kasetsart University in Bangkok.

[NOTE: an update can be found on the situation including the man’s name, details, bail etc can be found here]

The identity of the man has been withheld, and all that is known of him is his education – as it plays a significant part in his arrest – and that he was (initially) refused bail. His parents are said to have made a fresh appeal on Sunday but it remains unclear, right now, whether there has been an update.

It is worth bearing in mind how lese majeste charges are filed – it takes only one complaint to be lodged before a charge is levied and a decision is made on pursuing it – before reading both Prachaitai (in Thai) and The Nation who have an account of how charges developed:

The person who filed the charge was said to be a vice rector for students affairs, who reportedly said he was pressed to file the charge by the University Council and that the complaint was filed in a bid to protect the university’s “reputation”.

But, as The Nation continues, it seems that the comments were either made a while ago or the man is a very recent graduate of the university:

The man made remarks on his blog that were allegedly offensive to the monarchy while he was a senior student at the university. These were apparently first spotted by fellow students, prachatai.com reported.

Lese majeste has been in the news of late with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) recently voicing its “concern” around the continued imprisonment of journalist and political activist, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, former editor of key red shirt media Voice of Taksin and Red Power, who has been detained since April.

While equally, Thai-born US citizen, Joe Gordon, continues to be held awaiting further developments on the lese majeste charges he faces, he was arrested on in May – the latest developments of which are regularly updated at Prachatai.

One month prior to Gordon’s arrest, a report from Freedom House downgraded Thailand’s internet freedom of speech to ‘not free’, aligning it with China, Vietnam, Tunisia, Iran, Burma and other censorship-heavy states.

Enter Yingluck

The arrest might give Thailand watchers an early glimpse at how new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra intends to address lese majeste, and freedom of speech in Thailand, as developments this year have seen a further increase in the number of cases reported.

Despite the change at the top, the potential for lese majeste reform remains unclear.

YingluckShinVotesJuly232

It remains unclear whether new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra can stop the abuse of lese majeste cases that are impacting freedom of speech in Thailand

Yingluck has stated her concern but, speaking in interviews before this year’s election as a candidate, she answered vaguely which is no surprise given that the issue is a real political hot potato.

In the words of two fellow AC bloggers:

Bangkok Pundit:

If BP’s memory serves BP correctly, the last time that lese majeste law was amended was in the 1970s by a military/military-installed government so don’t expect any amendments immediately because to do so will just invoke Thaksin-wants-to-overthrow-the-monarchy-argument.

And Saksith Saiyasombut at Siam Voices, who saw Yingluck respond to the question at a press conference:

Question: “Do you have any plan to change the 112 law?”

Answer:  ”No, for me, I don’t have any idea to change the 112. I would not reform it, because it is not my policy and also this is an issue which is quite sensitive so we have to leave it to the people who have expertise to comment on that. I don’t want to see the misuse of this law regarding his majesty.”

While Saksith comments:

Even thinking about amending Article 112 would give their enemies an opportunity to paint the Pheu Thai Party and the red shirt movement (since they’re all under Thaksin anyway, from their point of view) as anti-royalist. One has to question how the next government will reduce the misuse of this law without any form of change in one way or another…?

It is important to note, as Bangkok Pundit does, that those reported in the media are not the only lese majeste cases ongoing in Thailand as a great many come and go without comment in the press.