Lèse majesté in Thailand
Lèse majesté, i.e. the crime of violating majesty, has been prohibited by the Law of Thailand since 1908. In 1932, when Thailand's monarchy ceased to be absolute and a constitution was adopted, it too included language prohibiting lese-majesty. 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 Article 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." Missing from the Code, however, is a definition of what actions constitute "defamation" or "insult". From 1990 to 2005, the Thai court system only saw four or five lese-majesty cases a year. From January 2006 to May 2011, however, more than 400 cases came to trial, an estimated 1,500 percent increase. 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.
Neither the King nor any member of the Royal Family are able to personally file charges under this law. In fact, during his birthday speech in 2005, King Bhumibol Adulyadej encouraged criticism: "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. A widespread barrage of criticisms resulted, followed by a sharp rise in lese majeste prosecutions. Lese majeste cases rose from five or six a year pre-2005 to 478 in 2010.
The Constitution does not provide the legal right for the royal family to defend themselves; accordingly they cannot file grievances on their own behalf. Instead, the responsibility has been granted to the state and to the public. 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 lese-majesty against each other. Thaksin's alleged lese-majesty was one of the stated reasons for the Thai military's 2006 coup.
Scope of the law 
Although Bhumibol is held in great respect by many Thais, he is also protected by lèse majesté laws which allow critics to be jailed for three to fifteen years. The laws were toughened during the dictatorship of royalist Premier Tanin Kraivixien, such that criticism of any member of the royal family, the royal development projects, the royal institution, the Chakri Dynasty, or any previous Thai King was also banned. The original penalty was a maximum of 7 years imprisonment, but was toughened to a minimum of 3 years and a maximum of 15 years. This harsher sentence has been retained to the current day. As stipulated under the Constitution, 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. The reinterpretation has stood to the present day. Jail terms for Thai citizens committing lèse majesté are usually harsher than for foreigners.
Arrests have also occurred for sending text messages (SMSs) criticizing Bhumibol – although Bhumibol was not the recipient of the messages. During the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, numerous people were charged with insulting Bhumibol using body language.
There is controversy over whether criticism of members of Bhumibol's Privy Council also qualifies as criticism of Bhumibol. 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. Two days later, he was demoted by Police Commander Seripisut Temivavej. 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.
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.
Calls to reform the lèse majesté laws have themselves resulted in charges with lèse majesté. 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."
Political use of the lèse majesté law 
Lèse majesté has often been used to silence discussion about Bhumibol's role in politics, particular after the 2006 coup. Dozens of radio stations have been shut down due to alleged insults. As of December 2010, nearly 60,000 websites have been banned for alleged insults against Bhumibol. 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.
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. After the 2006 coup, there were an increasing number of claims that Bhumibol or his advisers knew of the 2006 coup before it actually occurred. Such lines of thought was suppressed with the lese majeste law: the number of people jailed for this alleged "insult" skyrocketed to an unprecedented number.
Academics have been investigated, imprisoned, and forced into exile for lèse majesté. In 2007, Assistant Professor 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. 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. Associate Professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn went into exile after his book, A Coup for the Rich, questioned Bhumibol's role in the 2006 coup.
Insults to Bhumibol's image 
Acts deemed insulting to Bhumibol's image are also criminal offences in Thailand. In 2007, Oliver Jufer, a Swiss man, was sentenced to 10 years in jail for daubing black paint on portraits of Bhumibol while drunk. 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. The man originally pleaded innocent, but eventually pleaded guilty to five acts of lèse majesté. Foreign reporters were barred from the hearing. Saprang Kalayanamitr publicly suspected that Jufer was hired to perform the vandalism and ordered a military investigation. Jufer was pardoned by the king less than a month after his conviction and deported.
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 Article 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.
Other insults to Bhumibol's image that have resulted in arrests for lèse majesté include placing photographs of anybody above photographs of the king on websites and not standing while the Royal Anthem is played at cinemas.
Internet blocking measures 
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. As of 2011 70,000 pages had been blocked over a four-year period. On 4 April 2007, the Thai government blocked Thai access to YouTube as a result of a video clip which it deemed insulting to the king. 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. On 28 October 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. "More than 4,800 webpages have been blocked since March last year, an ICT official told AFP, notionally because they contain content deemed insulting to Thailand's deeply-revered royal family."
Individual cases 
- 1980s and 1990s. Sulak Sivaraksa and other social activists were charged with the crime, because they allegedly criticized the king; Sulak was eventually acquitted.
- 2005. The 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.
- 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.
Oliver Jufer, a Swiss national, was convicted of lese-majesty and sentenced to 10 years in jail for spray-painting graffiti on several portraits of the king while drunk in Chiang Mai; he was pardoned by the king on 12 April 2007 and deported.
- March 2008. Colonel Watanasak Mungkijakarndee of Bang Mod police station filed a case against Jakrapob Penkhair 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.
- 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 Penkhair and Jonathan Head to Veera Musikapong at the FCCT. Jonathan Head, the head of the Bangkok bureau of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was accused of lese majeste on numerous occasions, and was eventually deported. Among his alleged insults was authoring an article where he investigated whether Bhumibol or his advisers provided backing to People's Alliance for Democracy and allowing a picture of a politician to be placed above a picture of King Bhumibol on a BBC Web site.
- September 2008. Harry Nicolaides from Melbourne, Australia, was arrested upon arriving at Bangkok's international airport 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. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to three years in jail but then pardoned by the king after spending a month in jail, released, and deported.
- 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. 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."
—Thai businessman Wipas Raksakulthai was arrested following a post to his Facebook account allegedly insulting Bhumibol. The arrest was reportedly the first lese-majesty charge against a Thai Facebook user. In response, Amnesty International named Wipas Thailand's first prisoner of conscience in nearly three decades.
—Thossaporn Ruethaiprasertsung was arrested and charged with lèse majesté for making photocopies of leaflets with contents allegedly against the monarchy and the Privy Council.
- May 2011. Joe Gordon, an American citizen born in Thailand as Lerpong Wichaikhammat, 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. "I want President Obama and Hillary Clinton to intervene on on my behalf," he is quoted as saying. 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.” 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. 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.
- 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.
- March 2012. Akachai Hongkangwan was arrested for selling VCDs containing a segment of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Foreign Correspondent series. 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 Tangnoppakul — Thai: 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. He had been denied bail on 8 occasions.
- 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.
- 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.
Satirical reaction 
Not The Nation, an anonymous website that satirizes The Nation (Thailand), 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.
See also 
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- Ah Kong's death reignites debate
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- 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."