Misreading lese majeste

29 11 2012

At the Asia-Pacific Memo that comes out of the Institute of Asian Research at Canada’s University of British Columbia there is a post by Kieran Bergmann who is said to be “the Google Policy Fellow at the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. She previously worked at the Canadian Embassy to Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, and Laos.”

Bergmann’s post is on lese majeste. Unfortunately, the post misrepresents the current situation in Thailand. This misrepresentation is little different from similar misrepresentations by the likes of Human Rights Watch.

Bergmann has much in the post that is accurate, “a surge in prosecution of these ‘lèse-majesté’ cases – some estimated as high as 1,500 per cent.” The data is pretty much correct:

In 2006, only 30 such charges were filed. In 2007, the year the Computer Crimes Act was adopted, 126 charges were filed. In 2010, a whopping 478 charges were filed. I found that the lack of clarity surrounding these laws and the very real threat of prosecution prompts many Thai commentators and editors to exercise self censorship.

The misrepresentation relates to the period after the July 2011 election. Bergmann states: “When the current prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was elected in July 2011, there was hope that the number of such charges would drop…. But the government has ramped up its efforts.”

The fact is that charges, prosecutions, and jailings have declined. It is true that the government talked up its commitment to the monarchy and its “protection,” a point PPT has made. However, it is incorrect to equate this government’s actions in any way with the remarkably frenzied use of lese majeste and related laws against political opponents by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and the military following the 2006 military coup.

Put simply, the evidence for “ramping up” on lese majeste under the Yingluck Shinawatra government is non-existent. While PPT would like the government to do more to free those held on political charges and to get rid of this feudal law, this isn’t the anything like a claim that the present government is “ramping up.”



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