While Joe Gordon’s release made international headlines for a day or so, two new lese majeste cases have hit the local headlines. They are telling for the light they throw on not just the political nature of lese majeste but also the extremism of ultra-royalists.
The first case involves the beginning of the lese majeste trial of เอกชัย หงส์กังวาน/Akechai Hongkangwarn, accused of selling copies of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s documentary on the future of the Thai monarchy and the lese majeste. He was arrested in March 2011. For PPT’s material on the case and the documentary, see here. At the time of his arrest, he was also accused of having Wikileaks documents that were considered damaging to the monarchy and especially the crown prince (see here, here, here, here and here on Wikileaks and the linking of the ABC and Wikileaks here).
Akechai is hoping “to establish the fact that the video, along with two manuscripts of WikiLeaks cables he is being charged for under the lese majeste law were factual and did not constitute defamation of the monarchy.”
The Australian Broadcasting Commission has been totally hopeless, refusing to assist Akechai’s defense in any way. They appear to lack any spine.
Interestingly and tellingly, the
presiding judges wanted to hold the trial in camera but The Nation objected, saying it was [un]constitutional and that holding a trial in secret was contrary to standard legal procedure in democratic countries. The judges eventually allowed observers to remain but the video was not shown.
The report states that:
Police Lieut Major Somyot Udomraksasab, who ordered the arrest of Ekachai, stood as one of two prosecution witnesses yesterday. He said he believed the ABC report, which contains video footage involving HRH the Crown Prince, was defamatory. Somyot also testified that he believed that WikiLeaks texts claiming to refer to words by leading Thai politicians such as the late prime minister Samak Sundaravej, former premier Anand Panyarachun and Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanond also contained defamatory remarks about the monarchy.
The defamation of the price seems to refer to the leaked video showing his current wife nude at a birthday party for their dog Fu Fu.
The alleged defamatory words by Prem and Anand are in the cables and suggest that these two may also be at risk of charge. We realize that this is unlikely, but the facts are there, in the cables.
The defense, that the information is true, has already been rejected by the court.
The second case relates to a Bangkok Post story where it is reported that a gang of ultra-royalist vigilantes stormed the airport to prevent a “New Zealand-resident Thai woman accused of a lese majeste offence” from leaving on a “flight to Auckland yesterday…”.
Some 200 extremists “turned up at Suvarnabhumi airport to protest against her possible departure.” They “picketed outside the airport after learning that Thitinant Kaewchantranont, 63, was due to check in for a Thai Airways International (THAI) flight to Auckland.” Who told them?
Thitinant, who is said to have “a history of mental illness” did not leave because the police “who have lodged a lese majeste complaint against her, referred her to Srithanya Hospital in Nonthaburi to see if she is genuinely mentally ill.”
The report claims the lese majeste complaint relates to her “allegedly making an improper gesture towards an image of His Majesty the King outside the Constitution Court…”.
Police said they “would have prevented her from boarding, as they believed she was unfit to leave the country.” The Thai Aiways company said that the “plane’s captain had pledged to refuse to pilot the aircraft if Ms Thitinant was on board, arguing the woman could pose a security risk.”
It is difficult to work out who, exactly, is deranged. The mad monarchists, the police or the pilot. Certainly, the mad monarchists, believing the king is god (see the sign on “blasphemy” should probably be seeking mental assessments.
More on this as we hear of it.
Update: A reader makes the good point that as the police are claimed to have lodged a complaint, this may become the first lese majeste case to begin under the Yingluck Shinawatra government. That is, the events of the case are all within the tenure of this government rather than emanating under the previous royalist administration.