Sulak Sivaraksa is a self-professed royalist who has faced at least five lese majeste charges. He is a leading academic and long-time conservative critic of the lese majeste law.
He was first arrested in 1984 in Bangkok and charged with insulting the king; the case was later withdrawn following an international campaign. In a second case, in 1991 he was again charged after giving a speech at Chulalongkorn University where he attacked military rule. Sulak fought the case until he won, in 1995. A third set of allegations were made against Sulak in 2006.
Sulak’s fourth lese majeste case saw him taken from his Bangkok home late one night in November 2008 and driven 450 km to a police station in the northeast province of Khon Kaen. There, he was questioned on accusations of insulting the monarchy in a university lecture he gave in December 2007.
On the 2008 charge, Sulak claims that on 26 March 2009 he had “petitioned the permanent secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office for justice and urged the authorities to drop his charge, saying a Cabinet minister had told him the premier was aware of his case and would have his case dropped by Songkran Day, April 13.” That didn’t happen. Sulak claimed that his case going forward and the expiration of his bail on 4 May was a part of a plot by the police against the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva. Sulak has “denied the charge and insisted that he was a true royalist who believed in the need to honestly offer critical views and dissent so the monarchy could review itself from time to time.” This has been Sulak’s long-standing defense against the various lese majeste he has faced over the past three decades.
Sulak has sometimes taken a partisan approach to the law, claiming that the law should be used against those who do not have the interests of the monarchy at heart. PPT believes that all uses of lese majeste are necessarily political and should be rejected and the law abolished. We deplore all applications of the law.
We understand that this 2009 case has been quietly dropped. Sulak has been reported as saying that this was because of the king’s personal intervention. Others state that it was a government committee that dropped the case. As PPT understands it, dropping the case doesn’t mean it can’t be reactivated at a later date.
A fifth case two retired royalist generals filed a lese majeste complaint against Sulak for a speech he made about King Naresuan, a historical figure considered important for the royalist mythology about Thailand. On 16 October 2014, Lt Gen Padung Niwatwan and Lt Gen Pittaya Vimalin filed the complaint at Chanasongkram Police Station accusing Sulak of “defaming” the former king during a public speech on “Thai History: the Construction and Deconstruction” on 5 October at Thammasat University, Bangkok. It is reported that in the speech, Sulak claimed the legend of an elephant battle between Naresuan and a Burmese king was constructed and he criticized the king of some 400 years ago for being cruel.
It might be considered that “defaming” a figure from ancient history, for who there is only scant reliable historical information, might be a nonsense. It might be considered that the historical records that do exist tend to support Sulak’s interpretation. However, this may not amount to anything before the madness of the royalist courts in Thailand. “Insulting” dead kings has led to jail for a defendant who made mention of the reign of King Mongkut involving people in slavery, a clear historical and undisputed fact, but implying that there was no freedom in that period. This was deemed an insult.
In relation to this case, on 24 December 2014, police isued this statement: “… Sulak Sivaraksa has referred to Somdej Phra Naresuen the Great and Somdej Phra Chomklao Chaoyookhua (Rama IV) in a way that insults, defames, or threatens His Majesty the King…”. PPT isn’t sure if the police are confused about present and past, but the tenses are surely wrong. The statement coincided with police calling in historian Pipat Krachaechan, of Thammasat University, to testify on the charge filed against Sulak. This case continued into 2017.
In early July 2015, it was reported that Sulak could face a sixth lese majeste charge for comments made in a panel discussion on the anniversary of the end of absolute monarchy. The discussion was organized by Rangsit University’s Faculty of Economics and the Heroes of Democracy Foundation. Police were reported to be investigating. We have no further information on this case.
In March 2017, it was reported that Sulak was a part of another sixth or seventh case.
The report stated that in 2016, Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, Deputy Police Chief, stated that nine people, including Sulak, and two corporations were accused of lese majeste for their involvement in a talk show aired in March 2013 called Tob Jod (The Answers) on Thai PBS.
Those accused seem to be Sulak, Somsak Jeamteerasakul, Surakiart Sathirathai, a former Deputy Prime Minister, Pol Gen Vasit Dejkunchorn, a confidante of the late king and show host by Pinyo Trisuriyathamma. In total, it is reported that nine stand accused.
Media commentary on Sulak’s cases:
Prachatai, 2 March 2017: “Renowned royalist accused of lèse majesté postpones hearing accusation”
The Nation, 3 July 2015: “Sulak issues warning”
Khaosod, 24 December 2014: “Historian Summoned Over ‘Elephant Battle’ Lese Majeste Charge”
Bangkok Post, 19 October 2014: “Lese majeste claims over Naresuan elephant duel”
Prachatai, 17 October 2014: “Renowned royalist Sulak sued for lèse majesté for defaming ancient king”
Thailand Mirror, 6 July 2011: “Don’t cry for me Thailand: Pravit Rojanaphruk”
Prachatai, 19 May 2009: “Sulak Sivaraksa reports to court on lèse majesté charge, blames Thaksin”; ภาษาไทย ดู ประชาไท, “ส.ศิวรักษ์รายงานตัวต่อศาลคดีหมิ่นสถาบัน อ้างทักษิณแกล้งผม”
The Nation, 3 May 2009: “Sulak could find himself behind bars”
The Earth Times, 11 February 2009: “Social critic urges Thai premier to act on lese majeste”.
Bangkok Post, 12 November 2008, “Institution of Monarchy and Lese Majeste”
Bangkok Post, 8 November 2008, “Politics behind Sulak’s arrest, says lawyer”
BBC News, 7 November 2008, “Thai arrest over ‘royal insult'”
Asia Times Online, 20 May 2006: “Lese majeste laws on trial in Thailand”