More than a week has passed since Kasetsart graduate Norawase Yospiyasathien became the youngest (documented) person to be arrested on lese majeste charges after being controversially reported to authorities by the university’s deputy rector, Nipon Limlamtong, and more details of the case have emerged through media reports.
I speculated in my original post that the charges and alleged comment may have taken place a while ago, and indeed the initial charge was filed almost a year ago (October 2010) as IFEX explains.
After three nights in prison the man was released on bail after his parents posted a land title of around 500,000 baht (circa US$17,000). IFEX also looks at the reaction which this controversial case has drawn from the academic community and Thailand at large:
The role of the deputy rector in Norawase’s case has prompted the launching of a signature campaign by academics and activists who are opposed to the move.
A webpage that includes writings by academic Jiles Ungpakorn was also launched…On the webpage, Jiles condemned Kasetsart University’s behaviour as censorship and criticized the repression of academic freedom in Thailand.
On the events that led to his reporting and subsequent arrest, University World News indicates that well-known online group Social Sanctions (SS) – which has at times performed like a virtual vigilante, publishing contact details and private information about political and social opponents to its members – may have played a part:
Norawase was apparently ‘witch hunted’ by a Facebook group calling itself the Social Sanction (SS) group, according to his father. His name, photos, personal address and numbers were posted online, and he was heavily criticised by members of the SS group.
On their Facebook page, the group – sometimes described as ‘ultra-royalist’ – states that its objectives are “to increase public awareness of corruption and create pressure to combat it and to stop the crime of lese majeste”. They add: “Only those with the courage to face the evil will rise to protect and serve the kingdom and the monarchy for the brighter future of Thailand.”
On Norawase’s arrest they wrote triumphantly “another one is down”. Norawase is the first student to face lèse-majesté charges, but the group has also targeted other students.
Although it is not clear if they were members of the SS group, students who tipped off Kasetsart deputy rector Nipon may have been members of similar self-styled online vigilante groups.
The article goes on to tell a quite disturbing story of how the group previously intimidated and hijacked a young student who was interviewing at a number of universities in Bangkok:
Last year Natthakarn Sakuldarachart, a politically-active high school student from Ratchaburi in central Thailand, failed to enter Kasetsart University despite having passed the admissions examination. The SS group threatened that if she showed up for the admissions interview, she would be beaten up. She decided not to attend the interview.
Natthakarn, a user of the Semesky online forum which some regard as ‘subversive’ for its outspoken views, told University World News she was also denied admission to Silpakorn University, which claimed her political views were disrespectful of the monarchy and therefore “not in line with university policy”.
The article cites Thammasat University law lecturer Sawitree Suksri who “described the… group’s method as “vicious” and “irrational” and a form of online violence that parallels the real-life violence in Thailand”.
The group has been active in Thailand before the Bangkok political protests in 2010, gaining notoriety for its often aggressive and brutal tactics. Interestingly Khun Sawitree suggests that “the ongoing Social Sanction phenomenon appeared to have the support of the Thai authorities”.
Given what a hot potato lese majeste is in Thailand, it is perhaps not surprising (but certainly disappointing) to see that the group and past incidents have not gained substantial attention in the media or political arena.
Political Prisoners in Thailand summarises the political implications and influences:
We think it highly likely that the Yingluck Shinawatra government is being “tested” by royalists. The latter wish to ensure that the regime of lese majeste repression continues and hence will likely push for more prosecutions, so that the Yingluck administration will need to respond with acts of “loyalty.”
So far, the outlook on lese majeste remains bleak.
UPDATE: by coincidence this morning Saksith over at fellow AC blog SiamVoices has this post on Norawase which touches on wider lese majeste issues.