BBC, Handley, lese majeste and fear

4 12 2009

Also available as บีบีซี แฮนด์ลี่ กฎหมายหมิ่นฯ และ ความกลัว

The BBC’s Alastair Leithead has a long report on the king’s muted birthday celebrations this year that becomes a comment on lese majeste and politics (4 December 2009: “Thais worried by health of King and country”). The story is framed in odd and contradictory ways, but readers will understand why.

Like others, Leithead observes that the king’s health and the continuing political crisis are “worrying many people in the kingdom who fear instability and a deepening crisis.”

This framing of the king’s health and political crisis as separate issues (see Time magazine’s report also) is really separating the inseparable as monarchy and political crisis are clearly intertwined.

Leithead also apparently uncritically accepts that the “king has been the country’s unifying figure for decades and is seen to have intervened positively in times of crisis,” ignoring events such as the 1976 massacre and the king’s personal role in that and the 2006 coup.

Then under the sub-header of “Why Thai king is so revered,” he reveals that he has talked with Paul Handley, the author of the banned The King Never Smiles. Leithead then says: “If we were to repeat here what is in the book, or what he told me in a telephone interview, I could be reported for an offence of ‘lese majeste’ or insulting the monarchy, be investigated by the police and face possible imprisonment in Thailand.” He adds: “If Paul Handley came here he would probably also be arrested for writing a book seen as critical, and speculating about the future.”

He cites Handley only on succession: “For the public I think there is a lot of confusion. Even though we have a named Crown Prince, no one from the palace is saying this is settled, because no one really wants to talk about [the inevitable]…. They also know the Crown Prince by his reputation,” adding “but it’s a reputation people cannot openly discuss.”

The report then discusses lese majeste, observing that: “Satirical websites poke fun at a deadly serious issue – people can be charged or even jailed for just talking about what eventually may happen to the king. Thais and foreigners alike speak in hushed tones about the Royal Family because of this lese majeste law.”

Then Leithead provides the current government’s justification of such repression as if it were fact, saying that the lese majeste law “is designed to protect the king and the royal institution from defamation and libel as the royal family is not protected by the courts in the usual way.” In fact, lese majeste is a law used for political purposes and to prevent discussion of alternatives to the current system of government.

The articles does cite Shawn Crispin, who represents the Committee to Protect Journalists in South East Asia, and who himself faced accusations of lese majeste in 2002: “The application and increasing use of these lese majeste laws represents a very serious threat to press freedom in Thailand.” Crispin adds that this draconian law “may be undermining the institution this law was designed to protect.”

Leithead then states that: “There are still some websites which are still operating, among them Same Sky which has a chatroom dedicated to discussions about Thai politics and royalty.” Actually the Fa Diew Kan webboard does more than this and one of the figures associated with it – Thanapol Eawsakul – has been charged with lese majeste. Leithead says that it does sometime contain critical comments on the monarchy, adding: “to translate them and publish them here could also leave me open to possible imprisonment.”

Then more attention to the hagiographical nonsense: “There is no denying the real, unconditional love people have here for King Bhumibol Adulyadej. His picture can be seen in many public places, the national anthem is played twice daily across the country and everyone stands for the king’s anthem which is played in cinemas before every film.” But he contradicts this immediatley, citing the case of the also charged Chotisak Onsoong who for “the past five years has not stood for the king’s anthem.”

The necessarily odd and contradictory tone of the report is repeated in its last sentences: “Thailand is a deeply divided and unstable country and there is fear for its future without the revered leadership, but there is also fear over what people can even say out loud about certain members of the Royal Family.”



2 responses

4 12 2009
บีบีซี แฮนด์ลี่ย์ กฎหมายหมิ่นฯ และ ความกลัว « Liberal Thai

[…] 4, 2009 ที่มา – Political Prisoners in Thailand แปลและเรียบเรียง – แชพเตอร์ […]

5 12 2009
Worries of the Thai people - - The Thailand Forum

[…] Worries of the Thai people Thais worried Alastair Leithead of the BBC has and interesting article on the worries of the Thai people HERE and PPT has some comments here […]

%d bloggers like this: