Closed Senate discussion of lesé majesté

27 03 2009

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajive has expressed coninuing concern regarding lesé majesté, particularly when it emanates from the internet and overseas. The Bangkok Post (27 March 2009: “PM concerned about lese majeste webs”) reports that Abhisit stated his anxieties following a closed session discussion in the Senate, adding that the government needed to be careful when enforcing the law.

According to the newspaper, Senators Anothai Ritthipanyawong and Khamnoon Sitthisamarn, both appointed senators and among the senators who bailed PAD leaders in 2008, asked Abhisit “about his reaction to left-wing academic Giles Ungpakorn’s recent statements in England. The senators suspected the academic’s views amounting to lese majeste.” In response, Abhisit sought the closed-door session, claiming that the topic was highly sensitive. After the closed-door meeting that lasted over an hour, a source said Mr Abhisit admitted his government was concerned about lese majeste, especially that which involved comments posted on overseas websites.

Citing an unnamed source, the Bangkok Post reported the prime minister as having “stressed legal action that was too public could allow ill-intentioned parties to increase their activities. Law enforcement alone is not a solution…” . According to the same source, “Abhisit pointed out that critics who expressed their academic views had to be separated from those who had ill intentions towards the monarchy.”

This view is to be welcomed, if it turns out to be more accurate than some of Abhisit’s earlier claims, but also raises questions: is it only elite-level discussions of the monarchy and lesé majesté that will be allowed?

Does this mean that political opponents can be easily targeted? A later quote attributed to Abhisit suggests that the political use of lesé majesté could be reinforced: “Especially among internet users, people who express opinions honestly must not be forced to join the movements of those with ill intentions”.

Apparently, Abhisit also wanted the government to seek co-operation “from the internet community rather than making arrests,” recognising that “freedom of communication on the internet and that webmasters cannot screen out improper content around the clock.” That too might be welcomed, but serious questions need to be raised about “encouraging” self-censorship.

In an updated report, the Bangkok Post (28 March 2009: “PM: Web lese majeste a worry”) adds that in the Senate session , Abhisit “was asked to find a way to help defend privy councillors from accusations because they were not in a position to defend themselves in public. He promised to consider the request.”

It is unclear to PPT why Privy Council members are considered defence-less when they have been regularly quoted in the press. However, it may be recalled that during the period of junta-backed government, there was a call to apply the lesé majesté law to privy councilors.

Abhisit again confirmed that his government did not plan to amend the lesé majesté law.

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