The internet/email lit up on the evening of 22 April 2011 with rumors that the prominent historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul (สมศักดิ๋ เจียมธีรสกุล) might be charged with lese majeste. Later, following the 22 May 2014 military coup, the military dictatorship filed lese majeste charges against him in July 2014.
Prachatai reported the earlier accusations, calling Somsak a “staunch critic of the monarchy…”. The Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha was said to be behind the charge.
Critics argued that this high-profile harassment would likely “backfire.” Vipar Daomanee, a fellow academic at Thammasat University, said: “Somsak has always been careful [in expressing himself] and the fact that the ruling class is using this law is short-sighted, blind and dictatorial.”
Perhaps thinking of then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s claims that academic criticism is not “out-of-bounds” when it comes to lese majeste, “Vipar … added that Somsak always cited detailed academic texts and facts whenever he criticized the law or the institution.” Clearly, those pushing the current [April 2011] round of lese majeste persecutions have thrown that idea out and are now setting their sights on any critics of the monarchy, trying to rub out all opposition.
Lese majeste academic David Streckfuss states: “Striking against red-shirt leaders is one thing but striking against an academic is another…”, adding that “Somsak and his group’s approach to criticisms are ‘very measured’.”
An article in The Nation also claimed that Somsak has been subject to “threatening phone calls of late and some unknown motorcyclists also drove in front of his home to harass him.” Later reports were of intimidation and attacks, with unknown persons firing shots into his house.
Academics locally and internationally protested on Somsak’s behalf. Somsak’s own defense was critical and reasoned.
When he later appeared at Thammasat University, some 500 academics, diplomats, members of the foreign media, and social activists also turned up to support him and denounce the campaign against him, and General Prayuth Chan-ocha. At this point it was reported that the likely prosecutions related to two open letters he had written in response to Princess Chulabhorn’s very odd interviews with a television personality. PPT posted on the interviews (here, here and here) and on Somsak’s responses (here and here).
In February 2014, Khaosod reported that General Prayuth was at it again:
The Royal Thai Army is considering a legal action against a prominent historian for his remarks about the monarchy, according to an army spokesman.
The claim is that Somsak “gravely insulted the Royal Family in his Facebook posts.” Somsak seemed to think that the Army is simply dim, misunderstanding comments where “he has been simply parodying and criticising certain type of royalists.” And goodness knows, they deserve parodying. Somsak asks: “Can′t the Army Commander-in-Chief read Thai?”
The Army has “warned that any further action that ‘falsely’ insult the Royal Family or lessen the public′s faith in the democratic regime with the King as Head of State would be met with legal action from the army.” The Army also promises “unspecified ‘social measures’ to deter such inappropriate action.”
And as is now usual when political tensions are high, the Army launches a witch hunt, demanding that “every sector … keep careful watch, in order to prevent anyone from slandering or insulting our beloved monarchy…”.
Following the 22 May 2014 coup, led by General Prayuth, Somsak fled the country and eventually found exile in France. He continued to be attacked by Prayuth and is regularly accused of lese majeste. The lese majeste charges in Thailand came in July 2014.
In February 2015, the royalist Rector of Thammasat University, working for the military dctatorship, decided to fire Somsak, despite the fact that he had sent a letter of resignation to take effect from 30 December 2014. The Rector rejected the letter and sought to punish Somsak by sacking him, stripping him of pension and other benefits due to him after 20 years of service to the university. This is how the royaalist elite works with the military.
In late June 2015 it was reported that Somsak had gained political refugee status in France.
The military bosses and the state have not given up and continue to seek ways to charge Somsak with lese majeste.
In late February 2016, it was reported that police had reopened a criminal investigation into an interview broadcast nearly three years previously. The case stems from several complaints of royal defamation against Somsak for his interview that aired in March 2013 on Thai PBS.
ThaiPBS aired Tob Joad (The Answers) in a series that also featured Sulak Sivaraksa, Surakiart Sathirathai, and Pol Gen Wasit Dejkunchorn. The show hosted by Pinyo Trisuriyathamma.”
According to police, no action has ever been taken on these complaints. This proves that police can be sensible, but they came under great pressure from mad royalists in the junta and outside. In fact, the deputy chief of Royal Thai Police was appointed to oversee the case or cases.
Apparently the deputy chief has to view the show and decide whether it is considered illegal. If he decides that the content constitutes lese majeste, then Somsak and other people involved in the program will be charged. This might include executives of Thai PBS.
In his interview Somsak suggested that the royals exceeded the limits imposed by the legal framework of the modern constitutional monarchy. He was absolutely correct. Here’s the show:
Media reports on Somsak’s case:
Khaosod, 7 March 2016: “Ruling in Somsak Jeam v. Thammasat Shelved Indefinitely”
Khaosod, 1 March 2016: “Thammasat Dismissed Somsak Jeam Unfairly, Judge Agrees”
Prachatai, 26 February 2016: “Exiled academic Somsak may face more lèse majesté charges”
Khaosod, 26 February 2016: “Monarchy Critic Faces Charge for 2013 Interview“
Prachatai, 27 June 2015: “France grants refugee status to Thai political exiles”
Bangkok Post, 25 February 2015: “Prawit denies military had Somsak fired”
Khaosod, 25 February 2015: “Thammasat University Expels Monarchy Critic Living in Exile”
Bangkok Post, 18 December 2014: “Govt pursues lese majeste suspects overseas”
Khaosod, 16 December 2014: “Thai Junta Chairman Vows to Hunt Down Critics of Monarchy”
Khaosod, 6 February 2014: “Army Threatens Lese Majeste Charge Against Historian”
Prachatai, 16 November 2012: “Police decide to prosecute Thammasat lecturer for lèse majesté”
Christian Science Monitor, 24 May 2011: “Academic freedom under fire in royalist Thailand”
The Nation, 12 May 2011, “Lese majeste under increasing scrutiny”
Reuters, 11 May 2011: “Thai army files lese-majeste complaint against academic”
Prachatai, 11 May 2011, “Somsak Gets Warm Support”
Prachatai, 11 May 2011, “On the Lese Majeste Proceedings Against Somsak Jeamteerasakul”
University World News, 11 May 2011, “Thailand: Academic Charged in Watershed Political Case”
Bangkok Post, 25 April 2011: “Intellectuals join Somsak to defend stance”
The Nation, 24 April 2011: “Shock over lese-majeste charge against Thammasat historian”
Prachatai, 23 April 2011: “Academic threatened with lese majeste charges”
The New York Times, 12 May 2011, “In Thailand, Tensions rise over royal family role”