Lèse majesté in Thailand

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A government officer pays respect to the portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand

Lèse majesté, i.e. the crime of violating majesty, has been prohibited by the Law of Thailand since 1908.[1] In 1932, when Thailand's monarchy ceased to be absolute and a constitution was adopted, it too included language prohibiting lèse-majestè. The 2007 Constitution of Thailand, and all seventeen versions since 1932, contain the clause, "The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action." Thai Criminal Code elaborates in section 112: "Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years." [2] Missing from the Code, however, is a definition of what actions constitute "defamation" or "insult".[3] As mentioned in the Criminal Code, lèse majesté only applied to criticism of the King, Queen, Crown Prince, and Regent. Tanin, a former Supreme Court justice, reinterpreted this as a blanket ban against criticism of royal development projects, the royal institution, the Chakri Dynasty, or any Thai King.[4] The reinterpretation has stood to the present day. Moreover, the Supreme Court of Justice of Thailand decided in 2013 that the term "king" in section 112 of the Criminal Code also applies to the past or deceased monarchs, not only the reigning monarch.[5]

From 1990 to 2005, the Thai court system only saw four or five lèse majesté cases a year. From January 2006 to May 2011, however, more than 400 cases came to trial, an estimated 1,500 percent increase.[6] For example, there were 478 cases in 2010 alone.[7] Observers attribute the increase to King Bhumibol's public invitation of criticism in 2005, increased polarization following the 2006 military coup and speculation over Bhumibol's declining health.[6] Jail terms for Thai citizens committing lèse majesté are usually harsher than for foreigners.

Cases are often filed by state authorities or by individuals, and anyone may take action against anyone else. In one notable incident during the 2005–2006 political crisis, deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his political opponent Sondhi Limthongkul filed charges of lèse majesté against each other. Thaksin's alleged lèse majesté was one of the stated reasons for the Thai military's 2006 coup.[8][9][10][11]

Scope of the law[edit]

The bond between the Thai monarchy and the Thai people is unique. It is not one between the Head of State as a political institution and the people as holders of sovereign power. When the Thai King is unfairly criticized, most Thais feel like their own parent is being attacked and cannot accept it[citation needed] – much in the same way that Thais do not accept anyone demeaning the Buddha or even statues that represent him.

Thai laws reflecting Thai cultures and ethics. The structure of offences of insult or defamation in the current Thai Criminal Code is divided into three groups and six levels:

The first group is insult or defamation against ordinary persons. Insult against another person in his or her presence under Section 393 has a penalty of imprisonment for a term not exceeding 1 month or a fine not exceeding 1,000 baht, or both. The penalty for defamation under Sections 326 to 333 is imprisonment for a term not exceeding 1 year or a fine not exceeding 20,000 baht, or both. The penalty for defamation by means of publication is imprisonment of up to 2 years or a fine of up to 200,000 baht.

The second group is insult or defamation against state officials or the Court. Insulting officials (Section 136) carries a penalty of imprisonment for up to 1 year or a fine of up to 20,000 baht, or both. Insulting the Court or the judge (Section 198) presiding over a case carries a penalty of imprisonment for 4 to 7 years, or a fine of 2,000 to 14,000 baht, or both.

The third group is insult against the Head of State of foreign countries or lèse-majesté. Insulting or threatening the King, Queen, Consort, Heir-apparent or Head of State of foreign countries (Section 133), which is an offence against the friendly relations with foreign states, is punishable by 1 to 7 years imprisonment or a fine of 2,000-140,000 baht, or both. The penalty for defaming, insulting or threatening the Thai Monarch, the Queen, Heir-apparent or Regent (Section 112) is imprisonment for a 3 of three to 15 years. Insulting or defaming a representative of a foreign state accredited to the Royal Court has the penalty of imprisonment for a term of 6 months to 15 years or a fine of 1,000-10,000 baht, or both.

It is clear from the above that the Thai Criminal Code classifies offences of insult or defamation in accordance with the status of and relations among persons in line with ethical norms in Thai society.

While the original penalty for lèse-majestè was a maximum of 7 years imprisonment, it was toughened to a minimum of 3 years and a maximum of 15 years during the dictatorship of royalist Premier Tanin Kraivixien. Also banned was criticism of any member of the royal family, the royal development projects, the royal institution, the Chakri Dynasty, or any previous Thai King. These harsher provisions have been retained to the present day.[12]

Recently, there is controversy over whether criticism of members of Bhumibol's Privy Council also qualifies as criticism of Bhumibol.[13] Police Special Branch Commander Lt-General Theeradech Rodpho-thong refused to file charges of lèse majesté against activists who launched a petition to oust Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, claiming that the law only applied to members of the royal family.[14] Two days later, he was demoted by Police Commander Seripisut Temivavej.[15] During the Songkran 2009 unrest, Thaksin Shinawatra accused the Privy Council President of masterminding the 2006 military coup. Royalists interpreted this as an attack on Bhumibol.

Calls to reform the lèse majesté laws have themselves resulted in charges with lèse majesté.[16] Political scientist Giles Ungpakorn noted that "the lèse majesté laws are not really designed to protect the institution of the monarchy. In the past the laws have been used to protect governments, to protect military coups. This whole [royal] image is created to bolster a conservative elite well beyond the walls of the palace."[17]

Role in 2005-2006 political crisis[edit]

Premier Thaksin Shinawatra and royalist activist Sondhi Limthongkul both filed charges of lèse majesté against each other during the 2005–2006 political crisis. Thaksin's alleged lèse majesté was one of the stated reasons for the Thai military's 2006 coup.[12][18][19][20]

King's 2005 remarks[edit]

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, also known as Rama IX, on his throne in 1950. Rama IX is currently the world's longest serving monarch

During his birthday speech in 2005, King Bhumibol Adulyadej encouraged criticism of himself: "Actually, I must also be criticised. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know. Because if you say the king cannot be criticised, it means that the king is not human." He later added, "If the king can do no wrong, it is akin to looking down upon him because the king is not being treated as a human being. But the King can do wrong," in reference to those he was appealing to not to overlook his human nature.[21] While the King indicated that he could be criticised, it should be for constructive reason and not politically motivated.

Use after 2006 coup[edit]

Opposition of lèse majesté often claimed that the law has been used to silence discussion about Bhumibol's role in politics, particularly after the 2006 coup. After the 2006 coup, there were an increasing number of claims without real evident that Bhumibol or his advisers knew of the 2006 coup before it actually occurred. However, the King is regarded as being above politics. He has always exercised his authority within the realm of the constitution.

Dozens of radio stations have been shut down due to alleged insults.[22]

Academics have been investigated, imprisoned, and forced into exile for lèse majesté. In 2007 Boonsong Chaisingkananon of Silpakorn University was the subject of a police investigation for asking students in an exam if the institution of the monarchy was necessary for Thai society and if it could be reformed to be consistent with the democratic system. The university handed in students' answer sheets and the professor's marks.[23] Prominent historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul was arrested for proposing an eight-point plan on the reform of the monarchy. Somsak claimed that he never proposed to overthrow the monarchy and never insulted Bhumibol personally.[24][25] Professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn went into exile after his book, A Coup for the Rich, questioned Bhumibol's role in the 2006 coup.[26]

Amnesty International considers anyone jailed for insulting Bhumibol to be a political prisoner.[27]

Internet blocking measures[edit]

Thai government recognises that the Internet not only holds enormous potential in contributing to development, democracy and dialogue, but is also a powerful platform for freedom of expression and free flow of information. The existing laws and regulations governing Internet freedom aim to ensure that the Internet provides a safe and open environment where freedom of expression, diversity, culture and knowledge can flourish. An important challenge in recent years is the increased abuse of Internet freedom by some individuals or groups for personal, commercial and/or political purposes seriously infringing upon the rights or reputations of others and threatening national security and public order. Of particular concern to Thailand are (1) malicious comments made against the institution of the monarchy and the royal families, who are by law not in a position to defend themselves (2) improper content and language aimed at inciting hatred and undermining national security for political or other reasons and (3) pornographic content, in particular child pornography.

The government through the Office of Prevention and Suppression of Information Technology Crimes maintains a "war room" where about a dozen computer specialists monitor the content of the internet for pages which disparage the monarchy or pose a threat to national security. A web crawler is used to search widely. When an offending image or language is found the office obtains a court order blocking the site. On October 28, 2008, The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) announced plans to spend about 100 million to 500 million baht to build a gateway to block websites with contents defaming the royal institution.[28]

In 2008 "more than 4,800 webpages ha[d] been blocked...because they contain[ed] content deemed insulting to Thailand's royal family".[29] As of December 2010, nearly 60,000 websites have been banned for alleged insults against Bhumibol. As of 2011, 70,000 pages had been blocked over a four-year period.[30]

On April 4, 2007, the Thai government blocked Thai access to YouTube as a result of a video clip which it deemed insulting to the king.[31][32] Various leaders of the military junta claimed that the clip was an attempt to undermine the monarchy, attack Thailand as a country, and threaten national security.[33]

The website of Same Sky Books, publishers of Fah Diao Kan magazine, was shut down by the military government after comments on its bulletin board questioned claims made by the Thai media that the entire country was in mourning over the death of Princess Galyani Vadhana.[34]

Chiranuch Premchaiporn, webmaster of news website Prachatai, has been jailed without bail for nearly a year for not removing an allegedly insulting comment from an article fast enough. Although the comments did not directly mention Bhumibol or members of his family, the court found that Chiranuch displayed insulting intent. Arrested in September 2010, she could face up to 50 years imprisonment if found guilty.[35][36][37]

Insults to Bhumibol's image[edit]

Acts deemed insulting to Bhumibol's image are also criminal offences under lèse majesté in Thailand. This includes placing photographs of anybody above photographs of the king on websites and not standing while the Royal Anthem is played at cinemas.[38][39]

In 2007 Oliver Jufer, a Swiss man, was sentenced to 10 years in jail for daubing black paint on portraits of Bhumibol while drunk in Chiang Mai.[40][41] The Thai press was requested not to publish any information about the case. "This is a delicate issue and we don't want the public to know much about it", noted chief prosecutor Manoon Moongpanchon.[42] The man originally pleaded innocent, but eventually pleaded guilty to five acts of lèse majesté. Foreign reporters were barred from the hearing.[43] Saprang Kalayanamitr publicly suspected that Jufer was hired to perform the vandalism and ordered a military investigation.[44] Jufer was pardoned by the king on April 12, 2007, less than a month after his conviction [45]

Suwicha Thakor was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison, later commuted to 10, for posting a picture on an internet web board that was deemed insulting to Bhumibol, in violating section 112 of the Criminal Code and violating the Computer Crime Act of 2007. The CCA was passed by the military junta that followed 2006 coup; Suwicha's conviction was the first time that it had been successfully used to prosecute lèse majesté.[46][47]

Cases[edit]

  • In 1984 Sulak Sivaraksa and other social activists were charged with the crime, because they allegedly criticized the king; Sulak was eventually acquitted.[48]
  • In 2005 Department of Special Investigation (DSI) issued arrest warrants for two Swedish citizens, Abdulrosa Jehngoh and Chipley Putra Jehngoh, claiming that their Manusaya.com website contained content insulting to Bhumibol.[49][50]
  • March 2007, Lech Tomasz Kisielwicz, a French national of Polish descent, refused to switch off a reading light on a Thai Airways flight he shared with two Thai princesses; he was jailed under lèse majesté for two weeks after his flight landed in Bangkok.[51]
  • March 2008. Colonel Watanasak Mungkijakarndee of Bang Mod police station filed a case against Jakrapob Penkair, a politician and spokesman for former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, for public statements threatening violence and national security made on the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) stage on 29 August 2007.[52]
  • May 2008. BBC South-East Asia correspondent and FCCT vice-president Jonathan Head was accused of lese-majesty three times by Col. Watanasak. Col. Watanasak filed new charges and evidence highlighting a conspiracy connecting Thaksin Shinawatra, Jakrapob Penkair and Jonathan Head to Veera Musikapong at the FCCT.[53] Jonathan Head, the head of the Bangkok bureau of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was accused of lese majeste on several occasions. Contrary to rumour, he was not deported, but left Thailand at the end of his 3 year assignment for the BBC. Among his alleged insults was authoring articles that referred to alleged support for the People's Alliance for Democracy by members of the royal family, writing that Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn might find it difficult to "fill his father's shoes", and allowing a picture of a politician to be placed above a picture of King Bhumibol on a BBC web page.[54][55]
  • September 2008. Harry Nicolaides[56] from Melbourne, Australia, was arrested upon arriving at Bangkok's international airport[57] and charged with lese-majesty, for an offending passage in his self-published book Verisimilitude. The book, which sold a mere 7 copies, mentioned the "romantic entanglements and intrigues" of members of the royalty.[58] After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to three years in jail[59] but then pardoned by the king after spending a month in jail, released, and deported.[60]
  • April 2009. Daranee "Da Torpedo" Chanchoengsilpakul was sentenced to 18 years in prison without suspension for "intending to insult" Bhumibol and Sirikit at a political protest.[61] She did not actually mention the monarchs in her speech (she criticized, among other things, the "ruling class"), however, the court ruled that the prosecution "brought evidence that makes it possible to interpret that the defendant meant the King and Queen Sirikit."[62]
    —Thai businessman Wipas Raksakulthai was arrested following a post to his Facebook account allegedly insulting Bhumibol.[63] The arrest was reportedly the first lese-majesty charge against a Thai Facebook user.[64] In response, Amnesty International named Wipas Thailand's first prisoner of conscience in nearly three decades.[65]
    —Thossaporn Ruethaiprasertsung was arrested and charged with lèse majesté for making photocopies of leaflets with contents allegedly against the monarchy and the Privy Council.[66]
  • May 2011. Joe Gordon, an American citizen born in Thailand as Lerpong Wichaikhammat,[67] had lived in the United States for thirty years before returning to his homeland where he was arrested on charges of insulting Thailand's monarchy — in part by posting a link on his blog to a banned book about the ailing king. Gordon is also reportedly suspected of translating, from English into Thai, portions of The King Never Smiles – an unauthorized biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej – and posting them online, along with articles he wrote that allegedly defame the royal family.[68][69] "I want President Obama and Hillary Clinton to intervene on on my behalf," he is quoted as saying.[70] After being denied bail eight times, a shackled–and–handcuffed Gordon said in court on 10 October, “I’m not fighting in the case. I’m pleading guilty, sirs.”[71] On 8 December 2011 a court in Thailand sentenced Joe Gordon to two and a half years in prison (halved from five years due to pleading guilty) for defaming the country's royal family by translating excerpts of a locally banned biography of the king and posting them online.[72] The 10 October AP report on Joe Gordon's plea adds that "Yingluck’s government has been just as aggressive in pursuing the cases as its predecessors.". On July 10, 2012, Gordon received a pardon from the King and was released from jail.[73]
  • September 2011. Computer programmer Surapak Puchaieseng was arrested, detained and had his computer confiscated after being accused of insulting the Thai royal family on Facebook – his arrest marked the first lèse majesté case since prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected.[74]
  • March 2012. Akachai Hongkangwan was arrested for selling VCDs containing a segment of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Foreign Correspondent series.[75] Australian foreign correspondent Eric Campbell and ABC’s entire Bangkok bureau had been banned from entering Thailand after they aired an investigation of Bhumibol's role in the military's violent 2010 crackdown on protesters. The report was broadcast only in Australia.
  • May 2012. "Uncle SMS" (real name Ampon TangnoppakulThai: อำพล ตั้งนพกุล — known familiarly as "Ah Kong" "อากง") died in a prison hospital at the age of 61 while serving a 20–year prison sentence.[76][77] He had been denied bail on 8 occasions.[78]
  • January 2013. Yoswarit Chuklom, age 54 and currently an advisor to a Cabinet minister, was sentenced to two years in prison for a speech judged to have insulted the country’s monarchy. Yoswarit requested bail and intends to appeal.[79]
  • January 2013. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was sentenced to 10 years in prison, convicted of publishing two articles under a pseudonym that made negative references to the crown in his now-defunct anti-establishment magazine, Voice of Taksin, which was launched in 2009 to compile political news and anti-establishment articles from writers and contributors.[80]
  • During the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, numerous people were charged with insulting Bhumibol using body language.[81]
  • A 2013 Bangkok Post article said that Yuthapoom Martnok was accused of Lese majeste by his brother, and " has been jailed for a year in a Bangkok prison"[82] while waiting for a court ruling. He was acquitted and released one day (September 13) after the article ran.[83]
  • In 2013 Bangkok Post indicated an existence of "the testimonials of former lese majeste convict Thanthawut Aweewarodomkul on the lack of legal assistance and cruel prison treatment".[84]
  • On 16 September 2013, Aum Neko—"a Thammasat University student responsible for a high-profile campaign against school uniforms"—was reported to police (by Phornthipa Supatnukul, director of the TV programme Best of Your Life) for violating Lese Majeste.[85] CSD has forwarded the complaint to Technology Crime Suppression Division.[85][86]
  • 1 October 2013, Sondhi Limthongkul, founder of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) was declared guilty of lèse majesté for quoting remarks made by an opponent protesting the 2008 resumption of PAD protests.[87] The appeals court in so doing reversed a lower court acquittal (Thailand has no bar to double jeopardy) handed down on 26 September 2012. The lèse majesté had resulted from Sondhi's having quoted remarks made Daranee Chanchoengsilpakul.[88] Daranee "Da Torpedo" was sentenced in April 2009 (see above) to 18 years in prison without suspension for "intending to insult" Bhumibol and Sirikit. "Da Torpedo" had not actually mentioned the monarchs, but had criticized, among other things, the "ruling class." The court in 2009 had held that the prosecution had "brought evidence that makes it possible to interpret that the defendant meant the King and Queen Sirikit." The 2013 ruling reversing Sondhi's 2012 acquittal upholds prosecution for whatever words Sondhi had quoted, but for much less than "18 years in prison without suspension." Sondhi was sentenced to two years imprisonment for defaming the monarchy, then released after posting 500,000 baht ($15,935) in bail.
  • 3 October 2013, Surachai Danwattananusorn, 70, an ally of dissident and fugitive Jakrapob Penkair, was pardoned by the King after having been sentenced last year to 7 1/2 years in prison for making speeches judged to have insulted the monarchy three times in 2010. Earlier the same week, a woman was sentenced to five years for defaming the monarch in an unrelated case.[89]
  • In November 2013, the Supreme Court of Justice decided that the term "king" in section 112 of the Criminal Code also applies to the past or deceased monarchs, not only the reigning monarch.[5]

Satirical reaction[edit]

Not The Nation, an anonymous website[90] that satirizes a Thai newspaper—The Nation—satirized the media and public response paid to the case of Thai American Joe Gordon in contrast to that paid to the drug-related case of Australian Schapelle Corby and to the pardoning of Greek-Cypriot-Australian Harry Nicolaides.[67]

NTN later satirized plea bargaining in the "Uncle SMS" case.[91]

In December 2013, NTN circumvented the chilling effect of LMIT on discussion of succession with a discussion of the abdication of royal dog Thong Daeng.[92]

Activists against the law[edit]

See also[edit]

Literature[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

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  76. ^ Ah Kong's death reignites debate
  77. ^ Lisa Gardner (May 8, 2012). "‘Uncle SMS’ Akong, jailed for lèse majeste, dies – A chronology" (News & blogging). Asian Correspondent (Bristol, England: Hybrid News Limited). Retrieved May 8, 2012. "A 61-year old Thai retiree and grandfather, whose twenty-year conviction under Thailand’s lese-majeste law last year drew heavy criticism from civil rights groups, has been confirmed dead today." 
  78. ^ Kong Rithdee (May 12, 2012). "Funeral pyres lit in our dark night of shame" (Opinion > Commentary). Bangkok Post. Archived from the original on 2012-05-13. Retrieved May 13, 2011. 
  79. ^ "Thai Red Shirt gets jail term for anti-king speech" (News & blogging). Asian Correspondent (Bristol, England: Hybrid News Limited). Associated Press. December 27, 2012. Retrieved January 17, 2013. "BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai court has sentenced a leader of the Red Shirt political movement to two years in prison for a speech judged to have insulted the country’s monarchy." 
  80. ^ "Thailand sentences editor to 10 years in jail for royal insult" (News & blogging). Asian Correspondent (Bristol, England: Hybrid News Limited). Associated Press. January 23, 2013. Archived from the original on 2013-01-23. Retrieved January 23, 2013. "BANGKOK (AP) — A prominent Thai activist and magazine editor was sentenced to a decade in prison Wednesday for defaming Thailand’s monarchy, a verdict rights groups condemned as the latest affront to freedom of expression in the Southeast Asian country." 
  81. ^ Matichon, ดีเอสไอรวมหลักฐานเล่นงาน18แดงล้อม"จตุพร"ภาษกายชัดร่วมปราศรัยหมิ่นเบื้องสูง, 16 April 2011
  82. ^ Lese majeste law makes family feud a battle royal
  83. ^ Achara Ashayagachat (2013-09-13). "Man acquitted of lese majeste charges filed by his brother". Bangkok Post. 
  84. ^ Voranai Vanijaka (2013-09-12). "Waiting for Yingluck to start giving back". Bangkok Post. 
  85. ^ a b Aum Neko faces lese majeste
  86. ^ Aum Neko
  87. ^ "Thai royalist sentenced for repeating royal insult". Asian Correspondent (Bristol, England: Hybrid News Limited). Associated Press. October 1, 2013. Retrieved October 2, 2013. "BANGKOK (AP) — The founder of Thailand’s royalist Yellow Shirt movement has been sentenced to two years imprisonment for defaming the monarchy by repeating offensive comments made by a political opponent." 
  88. ^ "Thailand: Media mogul Sondhi cleared of insulting monarchy". Asian Correspondent (Bristol, England: Hybrid News Limited). Associated Press. September 27, 2012. Retrieved October 2, 2013. "BANGKOK (AP) — A Bangkok court has acquitted the founder of Thailand’s Yellow Shirt political movement of insulting the monarchy by quoting remarks defaming the royal family." 
  89. ^ "Thai activist convicted of defaming king pardoned". Asian Correspondent (Bristol, England: Hybrid News Limited). Associated Press. October 3, 2013. "BANGKOK (AP) — A political activist who was convicted of defaming Thailand’s monarchy received a royal pardon from the king on Thursday and will be freed from jail." 
  90. ^ Anonymous (28 September 2011). "About". Not the Nation. Archived from the original on 2013-01-22. Retrieved 11 May 2012. "Not The Nation is for entertainment purposes only. Redistribution of Not The Nation content with attribution is permitted. Some photos and images used on Not The Nation are taken from the Internet. If one of them is yours, we apologize and are grateful. The author(s) of Not The Nation choose(s) to remain anonymous." 
  91. ^ Anonymous (3 December 2011). "Prosecutor Offers ‘Uncle SMS’ Reduced Sentence In Exchange For Acting More Evil". Not The Nation. Archived from the original on 2013-01-22. Retrieved 22 January 2013. "... . Under the proposed agreement, Ampon’s sentence will be reduced from 20 to only 5 years if he agrees to act more evil between now and his incarceration." 
  92. ^ Anonymous (3 December 2013). "Thongdaeng Abdicates To Foo Foo". Not The Nation. Archived from the original on 2014-01-06. Retrieved 2014-01-06. "RATTANAKOSIN – In a shocking event that may forever alter the social and cultural landscape of the Kingdom of Thailand, His Majesty the King’s royal dog Thongdaeng has abdicated his position as the nation’s ruling pet of state to Foo Foo, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s longstanding dog-in-waiting." 
  93. ^ Kong Rithdee (2014-04-26). "Poet's death casts chill on our society". Bangkok Post.