Thailand: Changing attitudes towards lese majeste
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Thailand: Changing attitudes towards lese majeste

Ploy Bunluesilp of NBC News:

Many Thais feel great respect for the king, but there is increasing concern over whether restrictions on freedom of speech are damaging the monarchy rather than protecting it.

As a Thai, I admire the king, but as a journalist I am concerned that I cannot discuss the growing national debate about the monarchy. Even in private, many Thais are worried that discussing it could get them jailed.

Most Thais I spoke to about the sentence were afraid to express their views openly.

“He’s not the book author, he only translated and posted on his blog. It’s a bit unfair for him,” said school officer Suthasinee who declined to give her last name.

The book Gordon translated is The King Never Smiles, written by U.S. journalist Paul Handley and published by Yale University Press. It is one of the few publications that attempts a critical but academic look at the Thai monarchy.

“The media can report anything but not the royal family topic, we are all know that,” said Kan Yuenyong, an analyst at Siam Intelligence Unit. “If there are … more of lese majeste cases, it might make people stand up to resist against the royal institution,” Kan added.

CS Monitor:

“Our society needs to have a real constructive debate about the law, as otherwise you can have a situation where people can be jailed without fair trials. The king himself has said it is not healthy for society for people to be prosecuting each other,” says Surat Horachaikul, a professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

According to Professor Surat, who participated in anti-Thaksin royalist protests in the past, “lèse-majesté is a very sensitive issue in Thailand. On the one hand you have people who want to abolish the law, on the other, you have people who want to keep it and use it more, and then there are others who want to reform the law.”

BP: As BP noted in July just after the election:

Now, BP would actually say there is still self-censorship, but there is also more discussion of lese majeste and some issues surrounding the monarchy. What BP means is to think back in 2007, 2008, and for part of 2009 where there was little discussion of the lese majeste law. Actually, in 2007, when there was some pushback on amending thelese majeste law to make it tougher, BP was a little surprised. Now, discussion of lese majestelaw and other related factors is becoming more mainstream. You have Prawit in The Nationand Achara in the Bangkok Post. You have the front page of Nation Weekend featuring Somsak J and also opinion pieces in Nation Weekend from a group of law professors discussing lese majeste. Ditto Khao SodMatichon Daily, and Matichon Weekly. This was unthinkable a few years ago. There are more voices concerned that the current application oflese majeste law is not actually helping the situation.

Even during the current election campaign, at the start of the campaign, you had frequent implicit accusations that Puea Thai were anti-monarchy. On April 10, the military deemed some statements made by red shirt leaders at a rally on April 10 to be seditious and verging onlese majeste. A subordinate to the Army C-in-C filed charges against 19 red shirt leaders and the military raided and closed 13 red community radio stations for rebroadcasting the speeches. A further 800 community stations were also now under threat. Painting the red shirts as being anti-monarchy was likely done to hurt Puea Thai at the election. There were public shows of force by troops on multiple occasions in late April across Bangkok – officially to show their loyalty to the Army C-in-C, and the monarchy, tacitly suggesting that it was under threat.. In the end, Puea Thai won closer to 48% of the party vote of votes cast for political parties and this was even with the Army C-in-C going on TV to tell people to vote for good people to keep the institution safe. Accusing your opponents of being anti-monarchy is not as effective as in the past…

BP: Actually, Surat is certainly not a Thaksin fan.* Views about lese majeste have been slowly  changing. To suggest some reform – either of the law or its implementation – is a position that is no longer out of the mainstream. Such opinions frequently appear in the media. In fact, it is opinions that everything regarding 112 is fine and nothing needs to change which are less common nowadays….

*He is described in Cable No. [UPDATE: 06BANGKOK1376 It is actually 06Bangkok1408] as “a leader of the Academic Network for Democracy (AND – a part of the anti-Thaksin coalition)”, but he with 14 other academics have proposed a lese majeste review committee as per the Bangkok Post:

Meanwhile, 15 university academics proposed in a statement that there should be a committee to screen all lese majeste lawsuits before they are brought to the court to prevent Section 112 of the Criminal Code from being wrongfully used for persecution.

The 15 academics are Charnwit Kasetsiri, Chalong Suntrawanich, Kasira Techapira, Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, Surat Horachaikul, Supamit Pitipat, Saichol Sattayanurak, Atthachak Sattayanurak, Pichai Rattanadilok na Phuket, Somchai Preechasilpakul, Kriangsak Chethapattanavanich, Apichart Sathitniramai, Chamnan Chanruang, Sitthithep Eksithipong, and Chankij Khanchong.

The statement said Section 112, or the lese majeste law, has been wrongfully used as a political took by people of all sides to persecute their opponents, causing widespread and violent impact on people who honestly express their opinion and greatly affecting the monarchy.

The wrongful use of lese majeste law has also widened political conflict and curtailed the political rights and freedom of the people in democracy, causing a great loss of opportunity to solve political conflict through democratic means.

Amid an unending argument and controversy as to whether Section 112 should be abolished, the academics proposed a way out at this immediate stage.

They said a committee should be set up to screen all lese majeste lawsuits before they are brought to the court.

BP: Chaiywan Chaiyaporn is certainly not a Thaksin fan – he was the one who famously tore up his ballot paper to protect the April 2006 election. The committee seems in line with the TRCT recommendations. For now, there does not appear to be any committee set up to implement the TRCT recommendations – DSI have just said they will follow the recommendations – but an independent committee to screen all cases would be a better alternative…..

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