Lese majeste and the repression of political opposition

22 12 2017

Thailand’s lese majeste law has long been used as a means to repress political opponents of royalist, usually military-dominated regimes. More recently it has been used by the palace to “clean” its own house, but that is another story.

As a case study in expanding political repression, Cambodia provides a lens on lese majeste that is sometimes neglected for Thailand.

Cambodia’s current regime is certainly descending into deeper political repression as Hun Sen, born of U.S. bombing, the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese invasion, grasps power ever more to himself and a coterie of supporters and the tycoons he has created. His disdain for dissidents is deep and his authoritarian proclivities well known.

It is reported that, despite there being no obvious threat to Cambodia’s weak monarchy, Hun Sen’s regime “is considering the implementation of strict lese majeste laws such as exist in neighbouring Thailand, which would criminalise perceived criticism of the Southeast Asian nation’s monarchy.

This law is being conjured “amid a crackdown by Hun Sen’s government against political opposition, the media and the NGO sector. Last month, the government successfully dissolved the major opposition force, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).” It has also “shuttered the US-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute and forced closure of the Cambodia Daily newspaper. The Bangkok Post reported on Monday that the Cambodian Information Ministry had shut down a further 330 print media outlets.”

In fact, the law would not be to “protect” the monarchy, but would be to trample Hun Sen’s political opponents. Indeed, the “country’s ex-Deputy Prime Minister Lu Lay Sreng already faces a lawsuit, filed by Hun Sen in October, for insulting King Norodom Sihamoni…”. The former DPM referred to the king as a “castrated chicken,” blasting him “for not getting involved in Cambodia’s political situation during a secretly recorded phone conversation.”

Clearly, Hun Sen seeks to ensure that his political opponents can’t use the monarchy against him. He’d rather use the monarchy for his own political purposes.

The parallels with Thailand can be drawn noting the way in which an alliance of palace and authoritarian regimes was created and maintained.


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