Aubrey Belford at Reuters has compiled an in-depth report on lese majeste that is worth reading and considering. It is spawned by the huge spike in lese majeste charges and the lengthy and cruel sentences being handed out by the military courts to “offenders,” some of whom have been entrapped into “offending.”
Pongsak Sriboonpeng’s sentence of 60 years was the most draconian to date. Using iLaw data, Reuters states that “[s]ince the military takeover 15 months ago, 53 people have been investigated for royal insults, at least 40 of whom allegedly posted or shared comments online…”. Pongsak’s case is one of entrapment, and we have added details to his case report at the linked post on him.
As PPT has stated several times, we think this is an under-estimate of the number of lese majeste allegations investigated by the royalist military. The “trials” are usually held in secret and usually only after a “guilty” plea has been extracted from prisoners.
Reuters states that “[m]any of the suspects arrested since the coup were detained without charge, held by the army without access to lawyers and, in many cases, forced to hand over passwords to their online accounts…”.
Worse, the military junta has pushed cases through in perfunctory ways, without even a nod in the direction of legality:
Prior to the coup, “police needed to gather evidence before they arrested someone,” said Sasinan Thamnithinan from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, which has defended the majority of people accused of lèse majesté since the coup, including Pongsak.
“But the military has been able to do anything,” she said. “The military arrests you, gets your Facebook and other passwords, accesses them, prints things out and gets you to sign that it’s yours. After that they go to the court, get a warrant, and then they send you to the police.”
Citing David Streckfuss, the report notes that the military dictatorship’s “targets … are increasingly ordinary people, many of them red-shirt supporters of Thaksin [Shinawatra], rather than prominent individuals…”.
The “royalist establishment backed by the military has repeatedly tried to neutralize the political machine of Thaksin and his sister Yingluck, who were both elected prime minister with broad rural support, only to be toppled by military coups.”
As well as seeking to undermine Thaksin’s appeal and to punish him personally, the military junta uses lese majeste “as an instrument to crush dissent.” Streckfuss is quoted as saying that “the more severe punishments being meted out in lèse majesté cases should be seen as a bid to shore up the power of the junta—and the traditionalist elite it represents—amid anxiety over the king’s health. He is quoted: “It’s trying to send the message that this is a taboo subject and that discussion of the monarchy will be punished at all costs…”.
Reuters quotes junta mouthpiece as declaring the Yingluck government disloyal:
Major General Werachon Sukhondhapatipak, a spokesman for the government, said the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra had not properly pursued lèse majesté cases, which he called a “national security issue.”
He also accused Thaksin of seeking to replace the king in words that sound remarkably like Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda:
Werachon would not say if the increased policing of lèse majesté cases was related to the political turmoil in Thailand, except for one allusion. “If someone wants to be number one in Thailand, you need to destroy the existing number one institution,” he said.
Asked if he was referring to Thaksin, he said: “I’m not saying anyone, I did not say anyone. But if you want to be on the top of the list, be number one, you need to topple, you need to get rid of number one.”
The king is hardly in a position to be “number one” now, but it is the system he represents, where the royalist elite controls everything, backed by The Dictator’s guns (or any dictator’s guns), that is critical. It is the desire to protect privilege, hierarchy and wealth that drives the use of lese majeste and the efforts to wipe out opposition.