Streckfuss on his new book and lese majeste

3 10 2010

Pravit Rojanaphruk has an interview with Khon Kaen-based scholar David Streckfuss, about his Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, treason, and lese-majeste, just out from Routledge. PPT won’t go through his comments in detail, but we wait with interest to see if the book is going to appear on library shelves or will be circulated as PDFs. Can the royalist government and its supporters allow it?

On Thailand and the monarchy being “unique”: “If the Thai monarchy is so loved, why does it require one of the most draconian lese majeste laws of recent world history?” And this: “To believe something is unique tends towards a sense of exceptionalism, which easily leads towards becoming blinded to universal and historical trends elsewhere.”

Why has the mainstream media come to maintain self-censorship on anything deemed even mildly critical about the monarchy? Streckfuss answers: “One cause certainly is the increased penalty for lese majeste…. Most importantly perhaps is that since the early 1960s, much of the movement toward democracy was reversed and there was a re-sacralization of the institution. This shift made it increasingly difficult to address a whole series of political, social, economic, and cultural issues, depriving Thailand of much of the artistic and intellectual dynamism it might otherwise have had. The chilling effect of this law on the media is undeniable. But the mainstream media seems to have also failed in fulfilling its historical task of fighting for greater freedom of expression.”

Is the monarchy unstable?: “If it takes the lese majeste law to suppress criticism, expression of opinions, and public scrutiny—the hallmarks of any minimally functioning democracy—then the system is already precariously unstable.”

On the increased use of repressive lese majeste laws: “Unfortunately, it appears that in all of this political turmoil, lese majeste has become the preferred charge against political opponents, especially against the red shirts or those perceived to be red-shirt sympathizers…. Over a five year period—from 2005 to 2009—there were 430 cases accepted the Court of First Instance in Thailand, which handed down 231 decisions. Another 39 were received by the Appeals Court, and 9 by the Supreme Court. The number of lese majeste cases has skyrocketed under the present administration, to historically unprecedented and incomparable numbers—164 cases went to trial in the Court of First Instance in 2009. Such a vigorous use of a law for non-violent word crimes and against freedom of expression makes hollow Thailand’s claim to being democratic.”

On lese majeste and “Thainess”: “One regrettable aspect of this process is that Thainess became paramount, largely at the expense of everything else. So when the concept of Thainess begins to crack and fall apart piece by piece—as it seems to be doing now—it is understandably frightening because there is little else out there to unite people in Thailand.”


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