While it has been the Democrat Party that has most used the heinous lese majeste charge for political purposes in recent years, it should not be forgotten that in the struggle between Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party and the opposition, lese majeste was occasionally used. PPT was reminded of this when looking at some more Wikileaks cables and we came across one from U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce commenting on claims of lese majeste lodged against the Democrat Party’s Kalaya Sophonpanich.
respected opposition Member of Parliament (MP), Khunying Kallaya Sophonpanich, has been summoned for questioning by Thai police on charges of lese majeste. Four others were questioned, including Democrat Party parliamentary candidate Thanom Onkhetpol, who lost in the February 6 general election, and three party workers. The charges are based on a complaint filed by the government Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Party candidate who opposed Thanom and who reported to police in mid-January that Democrat Party (DP) campaign stickers reportedly used by Thanom illegally quoted Thailand’s revered King and Queen.
Detailing the alleged offenses, Boyce states they are:
based on campaign stickers (reportedly similar in size to a US style bumper sticker) printed and paid for by the local office of the DP in Bangkok’s Klong Toey constituency. Three quotes are used in the stickers, according to newspaper accounts. The first is an excerpt from a speech given by Queen Sirikit, “Poverty is no disgrace, while evil and fraud are disgusting and disgraceful.” The other two excerpts are from speeches given by King Bhumibol. “The richer people are, the more they cheat,” and “Anyone who cheats (or is corrupt), even just a little bit, may that person be cursed.” The complaint by MP Sita apparently alleges that the DP did not receive permission to print the quotes and that the DP is using the revered words of the monarchy for political gain. Khunying Kalaya is accused of ordering the printing and distribution of the stickers in the role of senior politician assisting the campaign of Thanom.
It is quite revealing that Boyce then states: “It’s unclear to most legal experts how this can be construed as defaming the monarch as the quotes are taken from public speeches and there is no prohibition on quoting the King or Queen in public.” Clearly, such a statement could not be made today following the remarkable political use of lese majeste and the manner in which the courts have interpreted cases with statements about the monarchy being above politics.
No charges had been laid when this cable was authored, and PPT is unaware of any case going forward, although readers may know more than us.
Boyce then notes that Kalaya “had the title of ‘Khunying’ bestowed on her over 10 years ago in part in recognition of her philanthropic works through Royally-sponsored projects for children’s’ books and encyclopedias…” and comments:
Use of this arcane but very important tenet of Thai criminal law by a government parliamentary candidate for political retribution is disturbing. This tactic, which likely had to be approved at the highest levels of TRT leadership to proceed this far, seems unnecessary and vindictive…. We are watching closely as someone clearly dedicated to Thailand’s revered monarch and to public service is drawn into a legal spectacle. Privately, many Thais have expressed to us their hope that Khunying Kalaya’s palace connections will find a way to have the charges dropped.
As far as we are aware, the case was dropped. But all of the (false) claims that the palace is never involved in these charges are but a puff of smoke when “palace connections” are invoked, and it is interesting too that Boyce takes this charge seriously and is “watching closely.” It is also telling that he uses the term “arcane” to describe a law that has come to be the most widely known in Thailand.
Update: A reader points out that the statement: “The richer people are, the more they cheat,” attributed to the king, should be linked to this post.