Updated: Lese majeste as blasphemy

28 04 2017

Prachatai reports on yet another weird legal charge and conviction involving long dead royal figures.

On 25 April 2017, the Provincial Court in  Lamphun sentenced 23 year-old Songpol Phoommesri to one year in prison and fined him 5,000 baht for having “violated” the Computer Crimes Act. The court suspended the sentence.

He was accused of having posted a Facebook message deemed by some localist and royalist zealots as defamatory of a legendary “queen” of the ancient Hariphunchai “kingdom.”

Songpol was deemed to have violated Article 14 of the Act. That article states:

Whoever commits the following acts shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand Baht or both:
(1) input into a computer system wholly or partially fake or false computer data that is likely to cause damage to another person or the public;
(2) input into a computer system false computer data in a manner that is likely to undermine national security or to cause public panic;
(3) input into a computer system computer data that is an offence against national security or terrorism according to the Criminal Code.
(4) input into a computer system pornographic computer data that is accessible to the public;
(5) publish or forward any computer data with the full knowledge that such computer data is under paragraph (1), (2) (3) or (4).

As far as PPT can determine from the information available, Songpol did not violate any of these five items. There was no fake or false computer data, there was no threat of public panic or likely to create panic,no terrorism, and no pornography.

Rather, it seems that he has been convicted of something closer to blasphemy (“the action or offence of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk”).

His blasphemy related to a posting on “Facebook on February 2016 deemed defamatory to Chammathewi, the queen who is believed to be the founder of Hariphunchai Kingdom in the 7th century located in the present day Lamphun.”

Indeed, Prachatai confirms this when it states:

After he posted the message on his Facebook account, a group of local people in Lamphun filed a complaint against him, accusing him of using obscene language to defame the queen who is widely regarded as a matriarch of Lamphun.

In fact, is simply impossible to definitively prove that Chammathewi ever existed or that she was a “queen.” The only “evidence” is found in an ancient chronicle. No chronicle is necessarily reliable as they were repeatedly copied and re-written. Rather, the story of Chammathewi is a legend.

It seems that in royalist Thailand, even the legends of ancient “royals” and founding myths are to be protected. That is, blasphemy is effectively recognised by the royalist courts.

Update: A reader says our headline is misleading. We understand her point. The conviction discussed above was under the Computer Crimes Act. Yet many lese majeste charges are coupled with the computer crimes law. Both are used to repress and oppress.


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