Lese majeste and the degradation of the rule of law

21 09 2014

Military dictatorships are usually established via a putsch. By the nature of their illegal seizure of power, such regimes are not usually much interested in the law as it applies to them. However, military dictatorships will often make use of certain laws to maintain repression and oppression.

In Thailand, since the military coup of May 2014, there has been yet another spike in the use of the draconian lese majeste and computer crimes laws. These are convenient tools for the maintenance of repression and the silencing of critics. The current military dictatorship’s use of these laws has its heritage in the 2006 palace-military coup. Following this previous putsch, the use of these laws has skyrocketed and been directed against those who are seen as enemies of the royalist state.darunee

Indeed, PPT came into existence. As we say elsewhere on this blog, PPT is dedicated to those who are held in Thailand’s prisons, charged with political crimes. It also seeks to raise the cases of those who are accused of political crimes. Our focus is the contemporary period where political cases revolve around the use of Thailand’s lese majeste law and, increasingly, the Computer Crimes Act. Our beginning was prompted by the Democrat Party-led government of 2008-11 that rapidly expanded censorship, blocked tens of thousands of web pages it considered offensive to the monarchy and presided over hundreds of new charges and arrests. All of this in the defense of some ill-defined notion of “national security.” The monarchy was defined as an issue of national security, not least by the military officers who seized power in 2014.

In amongst the plethora of convictions and continuing cases, two of the most egregious are those of Darunee Charnchoensilpakul and  Somyos Prueksakasemsuk. In both cases, the law has been used and abused in order to lock up and silence political opponents of the royalist regime. In each case, constitutional provisions were simply ignored by the courts. In the case of Somyos, his treatment has often amounted to a form of torture. Neither of them was ever allowed to access bail.

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk shackled in 2012

Somyos shackled in 2012

This degradation of the rule of law through the bizarre legal machinations associated with these political laws has been noted by others, including academics, Amnesty International and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

All of this background is to observe that Somyos has recently been back in the courts. Denied bail at least 15 times, Somyos appealed his 23 January 2013 conviction and sentencing to 5 years on each of two lese majeste charges. Within a short time, Somyos lodged an appeal, and on 19 September 2014, the Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s decision. Reports of the appeal outcome were carried in the Bangkok Post, Khaosod and Prachatai. Thecourt reportedly rejected Somyos’ appeal, saying “his new evidence could not override that of the prosecution.”

What struck PPT, however, was not that the courts continued to make politicized decisions but the continuing basic inhumanity associated with the case. Somyos was taken to court for the verdict and no member of Somyos’ family nor any of his lawyers were reportedly present at the court. It is stated that this is because they were not informed by the authorities in advance. His wife Sukunya noted that this failure indicated the lack of transparency and flouting of rules and law in lese majeste cases.

Following this failed appeal, Somyos has indicated that he would fight on to the Supreme Court.

Lese majeste has poisoned Thailand’s judiciary and undermined the rule of law just as completely and effectively as military coups do.


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