PPT wants to draw attention to a post at Global Voices that has some interesting interview material on the lese majeste law and its implementation. Global Voices refers to an interview with “a former staff of the Committee to Investigate Lese Majeste Cases in the Royal Thai Police” who remains anonymous. PPT can’t recall a similar interview from the past.
The first question is “What is the process in receiving complaints with regard to Article 112?” The response is:
When someone files a claim against another individual on a possible ground for violating Article 112 of the penal code at a police station, the claim will be examined by three divisions of the Royal Thai police. They can persecute [PPT thinks this is supposed to be "prosecute," but "persecute" may just be more accurate] someone at this stage or submit the claims to the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) in Bangkok, depending on the nature of the cases. Once the claims are submitted to the CIB, they are then passed on to the Committee for further investigation.
The next question is to ask how each of the committees operates:
There are many different ways to violate Article 112. If it is a message on Facebook, the first sub-committee has the authority to block it or shut it down, for example. If the claim involves further investigation, then it gets passed on to the second sub-committee, which further assess whether the claim is valid. This applies to claims whose alleged perpetrators cannot be named.
In essence, the first two sub-committees determine whether claims do violate Article 112 or not. The second sub-committee, in particular, ensures there are legal grounds to persecute [sic.] the claims. Once that’s determined, the third sub-committee, to which I belonged, investigate who the perpetrator is.
There’s not much in these two answers that will be particularly surprising for anyone familiar with the prosecution of lese majeste. However, as is clear from recent cases that have gone to court, lese majeste is a politicized charge and because of that investigations are also politicized because they are conducted in an often cursory manner, including with attempts to frame people.
The interviewee is then asked about “controversies” associated with the lese majeste law. His first claim is that those involved “know that lese majeste is not doing any good to His Majesty but we are put in a very difficult position.” PPT isn’t quite sure what this means, especially as some cases have been attributed to the palace itself. We guess that what is meant is that if cases go to court, some items produced in evidence might embarrass the king and his family. The interviewee then states:
We as police, we feel society expects us to persecute those deemed a ‘threat to the nation’. There is too much emotion in society about the royal institution. If the Committee begins to relax its role, then other units both within and outside the police will scrutinize us. It’s difficult to find an alternative to satisfy everyone. Hence, the status quo.
We have no idea how the police would know this. It seems that the police buy the state’s propaganda on the monarchy. We doubt that the walls of the palace would dissolve if the number of lese majeste cases was small or even zero. We know this because, in the past, lese majeste cases were far smaller than they were under the royalist governments of 2006-7 and 2008-2011.
The interviewee then agrees that the law needs “reform.” But then a remarkably revealing statement is made:
But before we reform it we need to ask ourselves again for what or whom this article is meant? If the purpose of article 112 is national unity then I think the punishment is too harsh. Perhaps the problem is with the case processing…why is it a police’s responsibility, for example? Could the Bureau of Royal Household take over? I don’t think it is practical to do away with article 112 altogether. Too many people in society will oppose such move.
Is that really what lese majeste is about? PPT tends to think it is, but only if “national unity” is defined in ways that make the preservation of the conservative and royalist social order the center of “national unity.” In other words, the lese majeste law is used in ways similar to internal security laws in other countries; as a means to repress political oppositions.
When asked what should be reformed, the interviewee makes another revealing point: “There is too much societal pressure to persecute violators so harsh that it becomes difficult to properly use the law. In truth I feel that since the law itself is flawed, enforcing it becomes inherently problematic.” The latter is certainly true, yet the notion that there is a great “societal pressure” for harsh sentencing is confusing demands by a few ultra-royalists and fearful palace officials for public opinion. Of course, there is no way to know public opinion on the law, or anything else about the monarchy.