Debating lese majeste

29 04 2012

At The Nation it is reported that Democrat Party deputy leader Thaworn Senniam has apparently said that the amendment of the lese majeste law must be done. A man bites dog story? Perhaps, although he adds that it can only be done when “the political climate and public sentiment are favourable.”

At the meeting where he spoke, it was said that there had been “five attempts since 2007 to modernise what some believe to be an outdated law concerning lese majeste offences…”. All have so far failed. They were:

The first was proposed by a team of lawmakers led by Pornpet Wichitchonlachai, a member of the National Legislative Assembly, in September 2007; the second by a team led by Pheerapan Salirattawipak in 2008; the third by People Power Party members led by Jumpol Bunyai in the same year; the fourth by Bhum Jai Thai Party members led by Sanong Tepaksornnarong in November 2009; and the Nitirat group was the latest group with its proposal for an amendment in December last year.

Thaworn is reported to get fully on a royalist script but then apparently gets confused. PPT couldn’t understand this bit:

I do not agree with the amendment, because right now Thailand is confusing lax law enforcement with loopholes in the law. I believe there are no loopholes in Section 112, but our justice system fails to enforce the law….

It seems he wants to keep lese majeste because it is easily enforced. Somehow, in a feat of twisted logic, lese majeste becomes an example of a good law.

He soon added the royalist claim that “Thailand’s Section 112 was no different from laws in other countries concerning the protection of the monarchy under a democratic system.” Of course, this is a lie, but Thaworn has a different take on the stale line:

He pointed out that Malaysian laws restrict certain rights of their people, for instance banning insults to the monarchy or the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and banning homosexuality.

Perhaps, in Thaworn’s realm, banning homosexuality and “protecting” the monarchy seems a useful couplet.

Meanwhile, Somchai Homlaor, who has been a member of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission said “the problem involving Section 112 is caused by the law itself, its enforcement, and the court’s interpretations.”

Despite often being described as a human rights lawyer, Somchai is no opponent of a law that restricts rights. He wants judges – who have been shown to be remarkably biased in lese majeste cases, to the point of acting unconstitutionally – to be able to “exercise their discretion” in sentencing, so that “penalties should vary depending on the damage done to the monarchy.” It seems that Somchai thinks that “if a person sends an insulting message once,” then this is not as “damaging to the monarchy” as a message that “gets disseminated across the globe…”.

That’s an interesting distinction for a human rights lawyer who remains chair of Amnesty International Thailand. Perhaps it tells us something more about the tragedy of AI’s hopelessness over recent years on this draconian law.

Nitirat’s Worachet Pakeerat corrected Somchai when he pointed out that a major issue with the law is precisely the “problem of interpretation by judges. He saying judges are very sensitive about the issue, resulting in ambiguous legal interpretations.”

More in line with democratic freedoms and liberal philosophy, Thammasat academic Kittisak Porakati who stated that:

the lese majeste law has been problematic since the country changed the ruling system from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy. He believed that people are entitled to express their opinion, but their rights must not be exercised in violation of others….

For a recent overview of the issues associated with lese majeste, readers might be interested in an article at Asia Sentinel. For those who can read Thai, much more on Nitirat is available too, including its most recent statement on lese majeste.



One response

9 08 2014
More fanatical monarchism | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] last time he was a member of a puppet assembly after the 2006 coup, Pornpetch wanted tougher lese majeste laws. Yes, sentences of 15, 20 and 30 years are simply insufficient when protecting the royalist elites […]

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