More from Bowornsak Uwanno on lesè majesté

9 04 2009

A few days ago, PPT reported briefly on the first of a 3-part series by Bowornsak Uwanno in the Bangkok Post.

Then we noted that Bowornsak is a royalist legal scholar who has made himself available to a number of governments over the years, including that of Thaksin Shinawatra and the military junta that overthrew him. When Bowornsak left Thaksin’s government, he wrote a similar series of articles lauding the monarchy. Now he is writing in a way that will suit the palace, as he did in 2006.

The Post has just published the second and third articles. PPT does not propose to detail the articles. However, some points deserve highlighting.

In introducing his second article, Bowornsak begins by reflecting on the penalties for lesè majesté.  He reminds us that to defame or to insult or threaten “the King, Queen, Consort, Heir-apparent or Head of State of foreign countries (Section 133), which is an offence against the friendly relations with foreign states, is punishable by one to seven years’ imprisonment or a fine of 2,000-140,000 baht, or both.”

The penalty for “defaming, insulting or threatening the Thai Monarch, the Queen, Heir-apparent or Regent” is, as most readers will know, far more draconian: “imprisonment for a term of three to 15 years.”

He adds that: “Insulting or defaming a representative of a foreign state accredited to the Royal Court has the penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to five years or a fine of 1,000-10,000 baht, or both.”

This puts lesè majesté on a par with murder.

In these two articlea, Bowornsak continues to root his argument in an unstated conception of “Thai culture.” Nowhere in the three articles does he define this, recognize that cultures change or that elite conceptions of culture are seldom uncontested. All he does is show that some elements of Thai law are, in his view, rooted in Thai culture. Of course, “different” laws do not define a culture.

This intellectual sleight of hand is also seen in the manner in which the author seeks to slice up existing monarchies and constitutional monarchies in the second article. He does this so as to create a special category for Thailand that is based on a highly dubious and rather old-fashioned, school book reading of Thailand’s history.

Bowornsak then argues, apparently with an unnamed Paul Handley, in comparing concepts of Dhammaraja and Devaraja. All Bowornsak shows in this short section is that he misunderstands or deliberately distorts Handley’s view and uncritically buys into the current monarchy’s claim to Sukhothai heritage.

This is followed by the usual genuflection to Bagehot’s view of a constitutional monarchy while purveying the discredited view that the monarch is not involved in politics.

Bowornsak’s view is that the 60+ years on the throne by the current king creates a special Thai case: “This culture of paternalistic governance also explains a phenomenon which may not take place anywhere else. When the Thai King is unfairly criticised, most Thais feel like their own parent is being attacked and cannot accept it – much in the same way that Thais do not accept anyone demeaning the Buddha or even statues that represent him.”

“Most Thais” – how does he know? Under threat of long jail sentences, who is prepared to say anything other than what is expected? Even if his statement is true, minority views deserve recognition and protection.

This leads to the conclusion: “All this demonstrates that in Thai society, the lese majeste offence has its basis not only in the principles of international law or constitutional law but also in Thai ethics, culture and Buddhist principles which are unique to Thai society.”

This legal scholar is obviously little more than an ideologue for royalists. He presents nothing but the usual propaganda that comes from royalists and has been printed in the Post many times in recent years.

Bowornsak also shows that he misunderstands contempt of parliament laws when he conflates them with lesè majesté.

Part 3  is even more intellectually dishonest. It begins with this: “While many Thais, including this author, believe that the lese majeste law remains necessary given Thai ethics and culture, we also recognise that in many cases the law has been abused for political gain in political conflicts.”

The first phrase has Bowornsak making his view a generalized “Thai” view and the second phrase is undoubtedly true. But the conflation of the two is unwarranted.

Bowornsak then comments on the Harry Nicolaides case and the king’s alleged benevolance:

“The severity of the lese majeste offence has significantly been reduced due to the benevolence of His Majesty the King. In most cases, if he learns of the matter or if there is a petition for a royal pardon for this offence, His Majesty will either express his wish that the case not proceed, or grant a pardon.

In PPT’s view, this is a perspective that has no basis in fact. It also implies that the king and his minions do not read newspapers, listen to the radio, watch television or have access to the internet. This is obviously untrue.

The latest instance was the case of Harry Nicolaides, an Australian author who was sentenced to three years in prison but served a little over a month of his prison term before being granted a royal pardon. Mr Nicolaides said in an interview that:

“On the King’s 81st birthday I saw fireworks in the distance. Some prisoners had tears in their eyes, praising a man they regard not just as their king but their father. I may not be Thai, but I am a son, and I know what it means to love a father. I am applying for a royal pardon. I pray the King learns of my plight so I might enjoy his grace.”

It was unfortunate that Mr Nicolaides had not petitioned to the King before being imprisoned.”

One can only wonder as to what Bowornsak means. Harry was first charged in early September 2008 and was imprisoned. How could he have petitioned before he was imprisoned?

“Had His Majesty learned of his plight before the court issued its verdict, Mr Nicolaides’ case might have been dropped.”

This is simply improbable. Again, Bowornsak implied that the palace and the monarchy live in a news-less world. Such a statement is insulting to any intelligent reader and to all of those who live in the palace or work for the palace. It is totally implausible.

Bowornsak deliberately misrepresents the Nicolaides case – see our page on Harry’s case. It is clear that Harry’s unwillingness to plead guilty was one of the reasons for being kept in jailfrom early September 2008 to mid-February 2009.

Bowornsak then cites the king himself on how benevolent he is (even if deprived of knowledge about cases). These quotations are worth reading in detail. Bowornsak then uses them to criticize David Streckfuss (again unnamed). Exactly how quoting the king on the law that protects him and his familyis evidence for rejecting careful studies of the implementation of the law remains unclear.

Unsurprisingly, Bowornsak concludes with a call for the law to be kept but its implementation modified, while including an allusion to a more fundamental future change.

Bowornsak’s articles are an imaginative mix of fact, fiction, royalist myth, allegation, reverence and elitist arrogance. PPT recommends careful study of this important statement of the rationalist royalist’s position by an erudite “hired gun” scholar.


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4 responses

16 04 2009
New: Frustrations and valid demands « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] well-known penchant for rural romanticism and also appears to accept something like the Bowornsak argument about the monarchy and  lesè majesté. However, as she has done in the past in different […]

21 05 2009
New: Managing lese majeste « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] Uwanno, published in early April in three parts in the Post (see PPT’s commentary here and here) . Specifically, he identifies Bowornsak’s failure to address the application of the laws in […]

23 05 2009
Comments on lese majeste-Bangkok Pundit « FACT – Freedom Against Censorship Thailand

[…] plans of a critique vanished. Would suggest reading Political Prisoners in Thailand posts (here and here) on Bowornsak’s […]

10 08 2009
New: Attacking Bowornsak on petitioning the king « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] has posted on Borwornsak previously, here, here, and […]