A New Zealand response on lese majeste

12 01 2015

In the past couple of weeks, ultra-royalists have become agitated – some quite hysterical – by the fact that the New Zealand government provided Ekaphop Luera with political asylum.

Ekaphop had been first sought on lese majeste accusations just prior to the 2014 military coup. After being sought for the military dictatorship, he fled to Cambodia and then, with UNHCR help, he was resettled to New Zealand.

The hysterical royalists are in a state of high angst because of the New Zealand government’s noble actions. They have demanded that something be done. They seem to want him back in Thailand so that they can torture and jail him for daring to speak out on the corrupt monarchy.

Interestingly, the conservative The New Zealand Herald has an editorial on the case. It begins with a silly concession to the mad monarchists in Thailand by referring to his “youthful indiscretion” in “[p]osing with a New Zealand passport on his Facebook page…”. PPT would have thought that his action showed his joy at being accepted by a liberal country.

Yet the Herald is right to observe that this action “should have no relevance in any decision on his future in this country. That should be judged purely and simply on the validity of his refugee status. The bare bones suggest his case is a compelling one.”

We reproduce the rest of the sensible editorial:

Mr Ekaphop was granted that status by the United Nations refugee agency last year and fled here via Cambodia. He said that he was escaping persecution in Thailand, where he is wanted under lese majeste charges. These forbid the threatening or insulting of Thailand’s royal family, a crime punishable by up to 15 years’ jail. Mr Ekaphop is said to have made the comments in 2013 when, as an affiliate of the Red Shirts political protest group, he spoke in support of the government of the day. He left Thailand when a military junta overthrew that administration, and was resettled under New Zealand’s quota refugee system.

Criticism of any royal family is, of course, part and parcel of the freedom of expression in this country. Forbidding it seems like something out of the Middle Ages. Indeed, to suggest that royalty should be immune from critical remarks would be to trample on a principle that is fundamental to any fully fledged democracy. Yet Thailand’s military junta has increased the prosecution of lese majeste subjects. Doubtless, it would claim this is a response to most Thais’ ongoing reverence for the royal family. In large part, however, it points to the debt that flowed from royal endorsement.

Mr Ekaphop is, in fact, a victim of the ongoing friction of a sharply divided nation. This will not end until democracy takes root. At the moment, that is far from the case. The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which Mr Ekaphop and the Red Shirts supported, was democratically elected. It drew its support mostly from poor and rural voters, who had benefited from her Pheu Thai Party’s policies, including improved healthcare and education and cheap loans.

But her government, like others elected by popular vote before it, was never accepted by Thailand’s traditional elite and the metropolitan middle classes. Their aim has been to create so much instability that the army saw no option but to intervene, not least in the interests of the country’s tourism industry. A measure of their success has been the dozen or so coups mounted by the military since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. The most recent intervention, in May last year, followed the wrecking of planned parliamentary elections.

Thailand says that Mr Ekaphop is “exploiting his status granted by the New Zealand Government to conduct political activities which have reverse impact on Thailand’s security”. This, it says, is an obstacle to the good relationship between the two countries. New Zealand should buy none of this. It should be pressing for a democratically elected government in Thailand. As is Mr Ekaphop.


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4 responses

14 01 2015
What royalists want | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] This is why they create hatred against those they see as enemies. That hatred can result in jailing, torture, bashing and other attacks by thugs, online harassment and more. The most recent example involves the incitement of supporters to attack the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. In recent days, the ‘UNHCR Thailand’ Facebook page has closed following online attacks and threats by royalists unhappy that lese majeste victim Ekaphop Luera was granted political refuge in New Zealand. […]

14 01 2015
What royalists want | Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] This is why they create hatred against those they see as enemies. That hatred can result in jailing, torture, bashing and other attacks by thugs, online harassment and more. The most recent example involves the incitement of supporters to attack the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. In recent days, the ‘UNHCR Thailand’ Facebook page has closed following online attacks and threats by royalists unhappy that lese majeste victim Ekaphop Luera was granted political refuge in New Zealand. […]

20 01 2015
Lese majeste and foreign policy | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] As we have posted previously, angry royalists and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, directed to action by The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, have been in a frenzy over the UNHCR’s efforts to have the New Zealand government grant political asylum to Ekaphop Luera. Ekaphop has been charged under Thailand’s draconian lese majeste laws that have been ferociously implemented by the royalist military regime. New Zealand responses to lese majeste madness have been careful and considered. […]

20 01 2015
Lese majeste and foreign policy | Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] As we have posted previously, angry royalists and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, directed to action by The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, have been in a frenzy over the UNHCR’s efforts to have the New Zealand government grant political asylum to Ekaphop Luera. Ekaphop has been charged under Thailand’s draconian lese majeste laws that have been ferociously implemented by the royalist military regime. New Zealand responses to lese majeste madness have been careful and considered. […]