Monarchy and lese majeste

16 09 2017

Some recent stories on lese majeste and the monarchy deserve to be highlighted even if they have been widely read.

First, the brave Akechai Hongkangwarn has come up with a proposal for abolishing Article 112 of the criminal code. The idea of abolishing the lese majeste is a proposal we heartily support, although the mechanism he proposes strikes us as a tad flawed.

Prachatai reports that Akechai cites a statement by The Dictator in positioning his proposal General Prayuth Chan-ocha use the dictatorial Article 44 to dump the lese majeste law:

He said that after Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, also known as Pai Dao Din, pleaded guilty of lèse majesté last month, the junta head indicated that the King actually does not want any individual to be prosecuted for lèse majesté.

Some might suggest that getting rid of the law by any means is okay, but we tend to think the idea of using a draconian power to nix the draconian law is contradictory. More significantly, we think it important to look at what The Dictator actually said.

At the time, The Nation reported that General Prayuth stated: “The monarch never wants to see people being punished because of this matter…”. He added: “The monarchy institution always has mercy, always grants pardons and even amnesty…”.

In fact, The Dictator was not expressing the new monarch’s personal position on lese majeste, but protecting the monarchy’s public image.

Prayuth stated that the “protection of the institution of the monarchy is one of the key security strategies of the government.” He “explained”:

“It is not the institution of the monarchy that issues and enforces such laws, it is the government’s duty to enforce the law to protect the institution…. Please understand that HM the King cannot enforce the law. The monarchy gives the power [to the government] to run the country, so we have to protect the institution.”

It is clear that Prayuth is distancing the monarchy from the political use of the law and that he speaking of the monarchy as an institution and not an individual monarch.

He claimed to be bemused that “people know very well that defamation of the monarchy is a crime in Thailand, [but] some just want to violate the law…. I don’t really understand why they just want to disobey the law.”

Prayuth’s position is congruent with the royalist propaganda on the law and is repeating tales we have heard several times over the decades and most especially since the 2006 military coup.

We should add that it is also false. There are several cases listed in our files that show the palace’s direct involvement with cases. One example is Bundith Arniya’s case.

Second, we wonder about a story at Khaosod. The Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, completed in 1915, is a Renaissance revival-style meeting hall, sometimes erroneously described as a “palace.” It is being closed to the public “indefinitely,” from 30 September, the same day that “people to pay their respects to the late King Bhumibol.”

A magnificent structure and lavish interiors have attracted tourists. Described as housing “some of Thailand’s national treasures,” this seems to mean royal stuff collected by fabulously kings, queens and other royals.

Officials state that there “is no date when the throne hall will reopen…”.

We may be all too conspiratorial, but the Hall is across the road from the purloined 1932 plaque. The Hall also has an important position in the 1932 revolution. As Wkipedia explains it:

During the four days of the 1932 Revolution (24–27 June), the Khana Ratsadon (or the People’s Party) used the throne hall as its headquarters. The party also imprisoned several princes and royal ministers as hostages inside the hall as it carried out its coup [they mean “revolution”].

Following that, the Hall was used as Thailand’s first parliament, and remained the parliament until 1974. It was then given back to the monarchy as part of  the Dusit Palace.

This return to the monarchy was a part of a long process of the royal family clawing back all that had been lost after 1932. That process restored and enhanced the monarchy’s (how) huge wealth and its political influence.

It seems no coincidence that this move is a part of a larger process undertaken under King Vajiralongkorn to further expunge the memory of 1932 and the period of anti-royalism.

Third, the Khmer Times reports on political refugee Neti Wichiansaen and a screening of his documentary “Democracy After Death” in Cambodia.

The report explains that Neti “is part of a small Thai community in Phnom Penh living in exile because of the Thai junta’s harsh enforcement of the loosely worded lese majeste laws, which punishes anyone who criticises the monarchy with up to 15 years in prison.”

Neti says: “If I went back now I would go straight to jail, even though I have no weapons. I am just a filmmaker…”.

PPT has posted on “Democracy After Death” previously, and the link to the film still seems active.

Neti was also one of the brave few who signed up for the Article 112 Awareness Campaign in 2011.

On the monarchy in Thailand’s politics, Neti says: “Many people after [the coup], realised that the monarchy is the mother mind of the coup. After that, Thai people think it’s unfair that the monarchy takes sides…”. Of course, the monarchy has always taken sides.

It is revealing that Neti does not claim to be a republican, preferring a European-style constitutional monarchy – that is, the 1932 model. He explained that: “Most Thai people don’t want to destroy the monarchy, they want it to go together with the new democracy…”.

Reforming the monarchy seems a pipe dream. Like the lese majeste law, abolition seems a better approach.





Kings and lese majeste

20 08 2017

In another interesting op-ed at the Bangkok Post, Alan Dawson comments on lese majeste. This is always a difficult topic in royalist Thailand.

On Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, Dawson considers, as we do, that his case is a “fit-up.” He says that:

Clearly, as the 3,000 people who weren’t charged [for sharing the BBC Thai story that got Pai charged] show, there’s more than a little bit of Beria in all this — the dreadful Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s secret police hatchetman who bragged: “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.”

He continues with “[a]nother example of that unique aroma of extra-careful selection” on lese majeste:

Patnaree Chankij, a 41-year-old domestic worker, wrote “ja” (yeah) in response to a Facebook post that kicked off a social media discussion about the monarchy. After police refused to charge her, the military prosecutor lovingly culled Ms Patnaree from among dozens of posters on that thread to face lese majeste charges.

There are those so blind that they actually deny that the motherly Ms Patnaree was selected from all the other candidates because she is literally the mother of Sirawit “Ja New” Serithiwat. Ja New, referred to by Bangkok junta supporters as a “pain in the extreme lower back area”, is an unrepentant coup opponent.

The fit-up:

Two events occurred. Ja New refused to take military advice to stop protesting against the coup. Ms Patnaree, his mother, was chosen for arrest, detention and prosecution on lese majeste charges for “yeah”.

Dawson concludes this comparison saying: “You can claim publicly these two acts are unrelated, so long as you enjoy people pointing at you and laughing uproariously.”

We get the point. Yet lese majeste is hardly a laughing matter even if the gyrations of its exponents are comical and extreme.

Like others who write on lese majeste and express some criticism of the law, Dawson also quotes the late king on lese majeste. He argues that the dead king “spoke several times in public against the lese majeste law.”

We are not convinced. The quotes that Dawson uses, like all the others who use it, are from the almost unintelligible and rambling 2005 birthday speech.

Yes, the king appeared to say that lese majeste was a bother, and also claimed that “the king” had never used it. But read the whole thing and read it in context and it is clear that the dead king was not advocating an end to the law or even its revision. He was criticizing Thaksin Shinawatra and complaining about the “trouble” caused for the king most especially when foreigners are charged with lese majeste.

(Recall that Thaksin’s government had caused an international kerfuffle when the Far Eastern Economic Review reported on alleged financial and business dealings between then Prince Vajiralongkorn and Thaksin, and used lese majeste.)

At the same time, we also know that that king’s offices have engaged in lese majeste cases, appealing sentences considered too light and even making complaints. So the dead king was embellishing the truth.

Then Dawson gets to the current king:

… the King has shown his feelings about Section 112 and about the government’s obsession with it. In the very first set of details given before last December’s royal pardons, His Majesty’s announcement stated specifically that prisoners imprisoned for lese majeste would be eligible. It was a slap against the junta’s fixation.

The general prime minister says His Majesty has clearly stated that he wants no one, ever, to be punished for lese majeste. That wasn’t the shock. The shock was the junta leader’s reaction. Which was to state that Section 112 exists to protect the monarchy.

The monarch does not want protection to extend, ever, to punishment. The military regime will continue to push for maximum punishment anyway.

This is buffalo manure.

The use of lese majeste against the king’s former wife Srirasmi, her family and associates is well known. So has been the use of lese majeste charges against unfortunates who have fallen out with the new king.





Republicanism means 50 years in prison

27 07 2017

Talking or posting about a republic or republicanism is considered and act of lese majeste. Governments for sometime, including the ultra-royalist military dictatorship, once “defended” lese majeste by saying that it was just like defamation but for royals. The case of human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul, one of the Stolen history 6, clearly show that such bleating was a concoction and expressed as blatant lies.

On 25 July 2017, Bangkok’s Criminal Court “accepted charges filed against [the]… human rights lawyer facing five decades of imprisonment for royal defamation and sedition.” Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have said that Prawet is accused of posting Facebook comments that are deemed to have asserted that Thailand should become a republic.

Even Prachatai uses the term “defamation” when reporting this case. Clearly lese majeste is not defamation. Rather, it is a law that represses political opponents and jails them for daring to think about and discuss alternative forms of government.

Prawet stands accused of importing digital content “deemed defamatory to the [m]onarchy and seditious.” He is alleged to have done this from 25 January- 23 April 2017 and this probably relates to Facebook posts made by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul.

As well as being charged under Articles 112 (10 counts) and 116 (3 counts), Prawet is “also charged with Article 14(3) of the Computer Crime Act for importing illegal information online and violation of the Council for Democratic Reform (the 2006 coup-maker) Order for obstructing … the police [in]… obtain[ing] his fingerprints.”

It is easy to see that the military junta is determined to lock him away for decades, with 50 years being the legally maximum cumulative sentence. The lese majeste and sedition charges alone, if proven, amount to 171 years of jail. Few who go to court on these charges are ever exonerated by the royalist courts.

Prawet and the other five (for whom there is precious little information that PPT can locate) have been held in jail since 29 April 2017.





Lese majeste that isn’t

17 07 2017

One of the ways in which the courts have undermined the rule of law has been by applying the lese majeste law to persons, dead, alive, fictional and historical, and some animals.

Anyone reading that sentence will be baffled, but it is a fact that the Thai courts have applied the law to threaten real and imagined opponents of the royalist regime and have tended to ignore what the law actually says.

On or about 20 August 2015, the Kamphaeng Phet provincial court issued arrest warrants for Kittiphop Sitthirat, 23, Atsadaphon Sitthirat, 45, and Wiset Phutthasa, 30, on lese majeste accusations. Later, a fourth name was added, Noppharit (surname not known), 28. Some were arrested on 21 August 2015.

They are accused of having made false claims about the monarchy, falsifying public documents, fraud, and impersonating officers from the Bureau of the Royal Household. Most significantly, they were accused of using Princess Sirindhorn’s name and so we call them the Sirindhorn 4.

All denied lese majeste charges when they appeared in court on 21 December 2015.

At the time, Noppharit, the fourth suspect, told the court that he does not know why he has been arrested and charged. He stated that he does not know the other three suspects and is not involved in the alleged crimes. He was arrested on 21 August 2015 and requested bail. As usual, the court denied it because the case involves the monarchy and there was a flight risk. All of this is the standard and cruel court practice in lese majeste cases.

Lawyers for Noppharit made an obvious submission, asking the court to consider whether the case falls under Article 112 since that law does not apply to Princess Sirindhorn. It doesn’t.

As has often been the case in the use of the lese majeste, the court chose to ignore the actual law and dismissed the request, saying “under the current procedure, it is not yet necessary to consider the request from the fourth suspect.”

In May 2016, the Provincial Court at Kamphaeng Phet sentenced Kittiphop, 23, and Wiset, 30, to four years’ imprisonment for lese majeste law, for making false claims about Princess Sirindhorn for financial benefit.

Now, Prachatai reports that “[h]uman rights lawyers are arguing that suspects accused of defaming Princess Sirindhorn should not be indicted with the lèse majesté law.”

PPT is confused by the report, given earlier reports of convictions, but we will accept that Thai Lawyers for Human Rights is correct in stating that “during the period of 18 July–December the Provincial Court of Kamphaeng Phet will hold trials for four suspects indicted with violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code…”.

The report adds that the “four suspects have been detained indefinitely, since the court has repeatedly denied bail.”

It states that “Noppharit also submitted two requests that the court reconsider whether false claims about Princess Sirindhorn falls under Article 112. The court, however, rejected the request.”

TLHR has “pointed out that indicting the four with Article 112 significantly affects interpretations of the lèse majesté law and the country’s judicial system in general…”. The report goes on to explain previous cases related to royals not covered by the lese majeste law. These are worth setting out in full:

In 1989, the Royal Thai Police submitted a request to the Council of State to conclude whether Princess Sirindhorn is an heir to the throne. The Council concluded that based on the 1924 Palace Law of Succession and a statement from the Bureau of the Royal Household, the only heir-apparent to the throne at the time was the then Prince Vajiralongkorn, now the current King.

The Council ruled further that defaming the princess falls under Article 326 of the Criminal Code, the criminal defamation law, under which a case can only begin if the injured party files a complaint against the offender, or gives authorisation to another person to file it. However, in Noppharit’s case, the plaintiff is Wat Sai Ngam Buddhist Monastery.

In 2012, Thanyaburi Provincial Court sentenced Anon (surname witheld due to privacy concerns) to two years in prison for defaming Princess Sirindhorn and Princess Soamsawali during a private conversation. He was initially indicted with Article 112, but the court ruled that the alleged crime fell under the normal criminal defamation law. The Appeal Court later dismissed the charge against him.

In another case in 2004, Nonthaburi Provincial Court handed 10 years of imprisonment to Prachuap (surname withheld due to privacy concerns). He was indicted with two counts under the lèse majesté law for making false claims about Princess Sirindhorn, the then Prince Vajiralongkorn, the Queen, and Princess Bajrakitiyabha.

In 2005, the Appeal Court reduced the jail term for Prachuap to five years after concluding that Princess Sirindhorn was not an heir-apparent. Later the Supreme Court reduced his imprisonment to 4 years, reasoning that Prachuap is loyal to the monarchy and had never committed a crime before.





Updated: Anti-112 activist abducted by junta

3 07 2017

Prachatai reports that Charoenchai Saetang, 60, known to have “campaigned against the lèse majesté law,” was abducted by soldier-thugs claiming the right to take him away under Article 44.

It is not know why he has been taken to an army base in Bangkok. However, the thugs “confiscated the mobile phones of the two brothers and Charoenchai’s laptop.” His brother is Kimpiew.

Update: Khaosod adds to the above report. First, Charoenchai’s “family … detained by soldiers two days ago have yet to find out where he’s being held…”.

Second, the “local police station, … was told soldiers had taken Charoenchai to file a report on suspicion the 60-year-old may have committed an offense under Section 112 of the Thai Penal Code, which outlaws insults to the monarchy.”

Third, the way the “legal system” works in these cases of abduction is shown to be even more bizarre than we imagined: “Although Charoenchai’s family said soldiers told them they were taking him to the 11th Army Circle base, the commander of that installation denied any knowledge.” Lt. Gen. Sanitchanok Sangkhachan declared that “security forces” – who is this if not military? – “never informed him when they brought someone to be jailed at his base.”





UN “very concerned” on lese majeste

14 06 2017

They have been saying it for several years now, but UN expressions of concern about lese majeste madness in Thailand deserve repeating. The call is to amend the law. That’s unlikely to happen any time soon, so a watered-down squeak for amending might as well be a real demand for abolition. That won’t happen either, but it needs to be shouted again and again.

The following is the whole post from the UN Human Rights -Asia Facebook page:

The military junta We are very concerned by the rise in the number of lèse majesté prosecutions in Thailand since 2014 and the severity of the sentencing, including a 35-year jail term handed down last Friday against one individual. A Thai military court found Wichai Thepwong guilty of posting 10 photos, videos and comments on Facebook deemed defamatory of the royal family. He was sentenced to 70 years in jail, but the sentence was reduced to 35 years after he confessed to the charges.

This is the heaviest sentence ever handed down under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, which is also known as the lèse majesté law. The previous heaviest sentences were handed down in 2015, when three people were jailed for between 25 and 30 years by military courts on the same charges. The offence carries a penalty of three to 15 years in jail for each charge of insulting the monarchy.

Between 2011 and 2013, 119 people were investigated for insulting the monarchy. Over the last three years, between 2014 and 2016, that figure has more than doubled to at least 285.

Statistics provided by Thai authorities show there has been a sharp fall in the number of people who have been able to successfully defend themselves against lèse majesté charges. From 2011-13, around 24 percent of people charged with the offence walked free, but over the next three years, that number fell to about 10 percent. Last year, that figure was only 4 percent.

While our Office appreciates the complexity and sensitivity of the issue surrounding lèse majesté in Thailand, we are deeply troubled by the high rate of prosecutions and the courts’ persistence in handing down disproportionate sentences for the offence. All people have the right to freedom of expression, including when it comes to criticising public figures. Imprisonment of individuals solely for exercising the right to freedom of expression constitutes a violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand acceded to in 1996. In March 2017, the UN Human Rights Committee, which reviews implementation of the ICCPR, concluded that Thailand should review Article 112 of the Criminal Code to bring it into line with Article 19 of the Covenant.

We also have concerns about the conduct of the trials since the military coup of 2014. Most of the lèse majesté cases have been tried before a military court, and the hearings have been closed to the public. Most of the accused have been denied bail and some held for long periods in pre-trial detention. While we welcome the Government’s decision in September 2016 to cease hearing future lèse majesté cases in military courts, we reiterate our call to authorities to apply this is to all pending cases, retroactively.

Our Office calls on the Thai Government to immediately amend the lèse majesté law to bring it in line with international human rights standards and to review all cases brought under Article 112 of the Criminal code.

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva





ASEAN lawmakers on Thailand’s authoritarian path

22 05 2017

We reproduce this in full from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights:

ASEAN lawmakers: Thailand moving in the wrong direction three years on from coup

JAKARTA – Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia warned today that Thailand is moving in the wrong direction three years after the country’s military overthrew the last democratically elected government.

On the third anniversary of the 2014 coup, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) reiterated concerns over arbitrary arrests, persecution of government critics, and restrictions on fundamental freedoms. The collective of regional lawmakers said that moves by the ruling junta have dealt lasting damage to Thailand’s long-term democratic prospects, and urged military leaders to return the country to elected, civilian rule as soon as possible.

“In the past year, this military regime has further strengthened its hold on institutions to the detriment of both democracy and the economic well-being of the country. Its actions since taking power appear aimed at systematically and permanently crippling any hope of democratic progress,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“To put it bluntly, Thailand is headed in the wrong direction. With the military firmly in the driver’s seat and a new constitution that guarantees it a central role in politics for years to come, Thailand appears further from a return to genuine democracy than at any point in recent memory. Meanwhile, investors are increasingly nervous about the control exerted by elites in managing the country. The damage incurred will have severe, long-lasting consequences that will not be easily undone.”

A new military-drafted constitution, officially promulgated on 6 April, contains anti-democratic clauses, including provisions for an unelected prime minister and a wholly appointed upper chamber of parliament. A version of the charter was approved by voters in a controversial August 2016 referendum, which APHR criticized at the time as “undemocratic.”

“With its new charter, the Thai junta has designed something akin to Myanmar’s ‘disciplined democracy,’ a flawed system where the generals still hold key levers of power and are able to pull the strings from behind the scenes,” said APHR Vice Chair Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the House of Representatives of Indonesia.

“This is a real concern for all those hoping that the Thai people will be able to enjoy democracy and prosperity in the future. In order for Thailand to truly return to democracy, the military needs to step aside, allow for genuine elections, and commit to remaining in the barracks, rather than meddling in politics.”

Since seizing power on 22 May 2014, the military-led National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has placed severe restrictions on political activities and arbitrarily arrested hundreds for speaking out against it. Journalists, human rights defenders, and former politicians have been among those subjected to arbitrary detention and mandatory “attitude adjustment” at military and police facilities.

“The situation for human rights in the country has deteriorated. In the past three years, we have witnessed steadily increasing repression and a clampdown on basic freedoms. These developments are especially concerning in the context of a broader erosion of democracy and rights protections across the ASEAN region,” said APHR Board Member Walden Bello, a former Congressman from the Philippines.

“After repeated delays to promised elections, it’s not clear that the generals who currently hold power have any intention of giving it up for real. There are also real concerns among the international community about the continued use of Article 44 and its implications for accountability and human rights,” he added.

Article 44 of Thailand’s interim constitution enables the NCPO chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha, to unilaterally make policy and override all other branches of government, and Prayuth has used this sweeping authority to restrict fundamental freedoms.

Political gatherings remain banned, a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly. Meanwhile, political parties are prohibited from holding meetings or undertaking any political activity.

The country has also witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of individuals arrested and charged under Article 112, Thailand’s harsh lèse-majesté statute, which outlaws criticism of the monarchy. Over 100 people have been arrested on such charges since the NCPO took power.

Press freedom has also come under attack. A new media bill, approved by the National Reform Steering Assembly, was repeatedly criticized by journalists and press freedom advocates. Though the final version of the bill forwarded to the cabinet earlier this month eliminated controversial proposed licensing requirements for media workers, it still includes provisions for government officials to sit on a regulatory body tasked with monitoring and accrediting media. This provision would undermine media freedom and constitute undue government interference into the affairs of the press, parliamentarians argued.

“The military government must recognize that a free, independent press is critical to a functioning democracy. It must also do a better job listening to civil society, including by ensuring adequate consultation with relevant stakeholders on all legislation,” Eva Sundari said.

“As Thailand moves into its fourth year under military rule, it is now more urgent than ever that concrete steps be taken to right the ship. Junta leaders need to understand that their actions, which fly in the face of international human rights norms and democratic standards, are no way to achieve a peaceful, prosperous future for Thailand,” Charles Santiago said.