Lèse-majesté / / (French: lèse-majesté [lɛz maʒɛste]; Law French, from the Latin laesa maiestas, "injured majesty"; in English, also lese-majesty, lese majesty or leze majesty) is the crime of violating majesty, an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state.
This behavior was first classified as a criminal offence against the dignity of the Roman Republic of Ancient Rome. In the Dominate, or Late Empire period the emperors eliminated the Republican trappings of their predecessors and began to identify the state with their person. Although legally the princeps civitatis (his official title, meaning, roughly, 'first citizen') could never become a sovereign because the republic was never officially abolished, emperors were deified as divus, first posthumously but by the Dominate period while reigning. Deified emperors enjoyed the same legal protection that was accorded to the divinities of the state cult; by the time it was replaced by Christianity, what was in all but name a monarchical tradition had already become well-established.
Narrower conceptions of offences against Majesty as offences against the crown predominated in the European kingdoms that emerged in the early medieval period. In feudal Europe, some crimes were classified as lèse-majesté even if they were not intentionally directed against the crown. An example is counterfeiting, so classified because coins bore the monarch's effigy and/or coat of arms.
With the disappearance of absolute monarchy, lèse-majesté came to be viewed as less of a crime. However, certain malicious acts that would have once been classified as the crime of lèse-majesté could still be prosecuted as treason. Future republics that emerged as great powers generally still classified as a crime any offence against the highest representatives of the state, and any actions that offend modern totalitarian dictators are still very likely to result in prosecution.
Current laws in Europe
- On 5 January 2005, Marxist tabloid publisher Jerzy Urban was sentenced by a Polish court to a fine of 20,000 złoty (about €5000 or US$6,200) for having insulted Pope John Paul II, a visiting head of state.
- On 26–27 January 2005, 28 human rights activists were temporarily detained by the Polish authorities for allegedly insulting Vladimir Putin, a visiting head of state. The activists were released after about 30 hours and only one was actually charged with insulting a foreign head of state.
In Denmark, the monarch is protected by the usual libel paragraph (§ 267 of the penal code which allows for up to four months of imprisonment), but §115 allows for doubling of the usual punishment when the regent is target of the libel. When a queen consort, queen dowager or the crown prince is the target, the punishment may be increased by 50%. There are no historical records of §115 having ever been used, but in March 2011, Greenpeace activists who unfurled a banner at a dinner at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference were charged under this section. They received minor sentences for other crimes, but were acquitted of the charge relating to the monarch.
For insulting the king, the heiress apparent, and their relatives, an offender may receive up to five years imprisonment. In October 2007, a 47-year-old man was sentenced to one week imprisonment and fined €400 for, amongst other things, lèse-majesté in the Netherlands when he called Queen Beatrix a "whore" and told a police officer that he would have anal sex with her because "she would like it".
The Penal Code of 1902, article 101, provides a fine or up to five years of prison for lèse majesté. In accordance with article 103, prosecution demands either the command or the acceptance of the King.
Article 101 states: ‘If any defamation is exercised against the King or the Regent, the guilty is punished with a fine or up to five years of prison.’
The Spanish satirical magazine El Jueves was fined for violation of Spain's lese-majesty laws after publishing an issue with a caricature of the Prince of Asturias and his wife engaging in sexual intercourse on the cover in 2007.
Current laws in the Middle East
In January 2009 there was a diplomatic incident between Australia and Kuwait over an Australian woman being held for allegedly insulting the Emir of Kuwait during a fracas with Kuwaiti immigration authorities.
In September 2012, pro-reform activists faced charges of Lese-Majeste following protests in two locations in Jordan. The protests turned violent after the activists reportedly chanted slogans against the Jordanian regime and insulted King Abdullah II and the Royal Court.
In August 2014, Mohammad Saeed Baker, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's shura council, was arrested in Jordan and sentenced to six months in prison for lèse-majesté. He was released in February 2015.
Current laws elsewhere
Moroccans are routinely prosecuted for statements deemed offensive to the King. The minimum penalty for such a statement is one year's imprisonment if the statement is made in private (i.e., not broadcast), and three year's imprisonment if it's made in public. In both cases, the maximum is 5 years.
The case of Yassine Belassal The Fouad Mourtada Affair, and Nasser Ahmed (a 95 year-old who died in jail after being convicted of lese-majesty), revived the debate on these laws and their applications. In 2008, an 18 year-old was charged with "breach of due respect to the king" for writing "God, Country, Barça" on a school board, in reference to his favorite football club. The national motto of Morocco is "God, Country, King".
In February 2012, 18 years old Walid Bahomane was convicted for posting two mild cartoons of the king on Facebook. The procès-verbal cites two facebook pages [sic] and an IBM computer being seized as evidence. Walid is officially prosecuted for "touching the sacralities".
Thailand's Criminal Code has carried a prohibition against lese-majesty 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 15-fold increase. Observers attribute the increase to increased polarization following the 2006 military coup and sensitivity over the elderly king's declining health. Recently in 2013, the Thai Supreme Court ruled in case no. 6374/2556 that the Article 112 of the Penal Code protects the past Kings as well as the present one. As such, the criticism or comment which may cast negative image or tarnish the monarchy on the past Kings or monarchy is punishable by law. However, scholars raised doubt how far back the lèse majesté will be applied as the present Thai monarchy (Ratanakosin) dates back more than 200 years while other monarchies which ruled Siam can be traced back as far as 700 years.
Neither the King nor any member of the Royal Family has ever personally filed any charges under this law. In fact, during his birthday speech in 2005, King Bhumibol Adulyadej encouraged criticism: "Actually, I must also be criticized. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know." He later added, "But the King can do wrong," in reference to those he was appealing to not to overlook his human nature.
In Thailand actual lese majeste need not be proven, only deemed to exist.
Under the NCPO Junta which overthrew the democratic regime in May, 2014, charges of Lèse-majesté have increased significantly. Even the parents of the former princess Srirasmi Suwadee as well as her uncle have been charged with Lèse-majesté. On March 9, 2015, a court sentenced her father Apiruj Suwadee and mother Wanthanee for insulting the royal family and lodging a malicious claim. They pleaded guilty to the offenses named and were sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
Malaysia uses the sedition law to charge people for allegedly insulting the royal institution. In 2013, Melissa Gooi and 4 other friends were detained for allegedly insulting the royal institution.
Laws against offending the emperor were in place between 1880 and 1947, when the law was abolished, during the US occupation. The last person to be convicted of the crime was a member of the Japanese Communist Party, Shoutarou Matsushima, who wielded a placard during a protest against food shortages reading, on the one side, "Imperial Edict: The Emperor system has been preserved. I, the Emperor, have eaten to my heart's content, but you, my subjects, should starve to death! Signed, (Imperial Seal)". Matsushima was sentenced to 8 months in prison, but was pardoned immediately by the government.
In Scotland, section 51 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 abolished the common law criminal offences of sedition and "leasing-making". The latter offence, also known as "lease // making", was considered an offence of lese-majesty or making remarks critical of the Monarch of the United Kingdom. It had not been prosecuted since 1715.
- Alien and Sedition Acts
- Flag desecration
- Insulting Turkishness
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- Straffeloven, § 101 at Lovdata.no
- Straffeloven, § 103 at Lovdata.no
- Norwegian: Forøves nogen Ærekrenkelse mod Kongen eller Regenten, straffes den skyldige med Hefte eller Fængsel indtil 5 Aar.
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- The dictionary definition of lese majesty at Wiktionary