Some commentary on lese majeste after the Somyos verdict

24 01 2013

David Streckfuss, a Thailand-based independent scholar and lèse-majesté expert: The lèse-majesté law works against the long-term interests of the Thai monarchy…. To a society that is becoming ever more politically conscious, the holding and trying of defendants seems arbitrary, petty and a clear violation of human rights.

Saksith Saiyasombut, at Siam Voices: The general chatter of the crowd was interrupted by an all too familiar sound from the back of the room: metal being dragged on the ground, the sound of the shackles the defendant was wearing as he walked barefoot into the courtroom.

At the time of writing, there were no reactions from national organizations like the National Human Rights Commission or the Thai Journalists’ Association, as they haven’t made a statements during the entire length of Somyot’s incarceration.

This is indeed a worrying verdict for free speech and the press in Thailand, which is progressively going backwards. Not only is it possible to be charged based on an ambiguously worded law; not only can anybody file a lèse majesté complaint against anybody else; not only are prosecutors determined to prove the intention of the accused (despite the lack of evidence in some cases); but now it is also possible to be held liable for other people’s content. This is especially true with online content thanks to an equally terrible Computer Crimes Act, where a culture of denunciation is state-sponsored and self-censorship is the norm.

Sunai Phasuk at Human Rights Watch: “So, now there is a new standard in Thailand that for Lese Majeste offenses nothing can be used in the defense as constitutional guaranteed freedoms to shield and to assure protection of basic rights.  So, this is a very worrying moment…. The conviction of Somyot is a very worrying step that freedom of expression in Thailand is under very serious attack. [PPT: Sunai is quoted as speaking of the present. In fact, since the demise of the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, charges have been substantially reduced. That said, every lese majeste/computer crimes charge is a serious attack on freedom of expression.]

Duncan McCargo from Leeds University: Unfortunately, the failure of this government to review the lese majeste law is entirely predictable…. Yingluck Shinawatra is performing a delicate balancing act to preserve the political deal which keeps her in office – and doing so involves keeping the country’s conservative institutions, including the palace, the judiciary and the military onside. [PPT: not sure which particular “deal” McCargo means. But, yes, predictable, for deal or no deal, Yingluck and Thaksin want to maintain the government, at almost any cost.]


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