The cruel 11-year sentence meted out to Somyos Prueksakasemsuk – 10 years for lese majeste and an extra years for insulting a autolatric, coup-making general – has caused plenty of reaction. Some of that has been the usual yellow-shirted and monarchist gloating that the monarchy has been “saved” once more by locking up a red shirt. Most of the reaction has been shock and outrage. In this post PPT looks at some of the reaction.
Some have asked if this case means that the monarchy is an impediment to democratisation in Thailand (a question asked 17-18 years ago in one academic article, well before there was any red shirt movement and when lese majeste was not used so eagerly). Others have used words like “chilling” and “detrimental” when talking of freedom of expression.
When the EU condemned the verdict, the required ultra-royalist reaction was to protest, with a group of 50 or so royalist xenophobes calling themselves the Monarchy Protection Network or Volunteers ranting that Europeans with constitutional monarchies might better understand “the importance of the monarchy to Thailand.” They grumbled about the king being some kind of military leader and about him having “done a lot for the country” and demanded that anyone being nasty towards their idol be punished. They also drew comparisons with Europe and lese majeste laws there. Of course, their observations on Europe are uninformed, as even a quick look at Wikipedia shows that even the rare uses of the laws usually result in small fines, whereas Thailand’s use of these laws is more in line with feudal Europe.
The more positive reaction has been for the mobilization of protests demanding amnesty and for Article 112 to be abolished or reformed. Even some usually critical of anything considered to have a whiff of Thaksin Shinawatra like ” consumer protection rights advocates and FTA Watch activists are behind the letters to be sent Friday to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Parliament Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranand, and Supreme Court president Phairoj Vayuparb, as well as the chair of the National Human Rights Commission, to seek basic rights for Somyot who has been denied bail 12 times…”.
While Thai journalists continue to be worse than hopeless, the International Federation of Journalists has stated:
“The reactions to the ruling reflect the strength of feeling against the court’s decision which has the potential to damage severely the country’s standing,” said IFJ president Jim Boumelha. “The sentence handed down by the court speaks more to curtailing critical reporting in Thailand than to protecting the monarch.”
The Nation says that the amnesty calls “started with the proposal of the Nitirat group … who called for a charter amendment to make a new provision on amnesty.”
Nitirat proposed that only the demonstrators should be absolved. Their leaders would also benefit from the amnesty if they proved they led the protests because of political conflict, not because they were hired. Of course, those who were jailed under the lese majeste law would also receive the benefit.
But under Nitirat’s proposal, no government officials would be absolved irrespective of whether they were officials carrying out the crackdown orders or they were the officials who gave the orders….
… Nitirat also linked the amnesty to the campaign for amendment of Article 112 on lese majeste, so the government could not comply with it.
Therein lies the rub for the timid Yingluck Shinawatra government that has refused to touch lese majeste, fearful of the wrath of the palace and its supporters. The more official red shirts want an amnesty via an executive decree, believing that this would not tread so heavily on any royalist or palace toes.
One way or another, the Yingluck government is now seemingly being cornered by its supporters.
Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post’s Voranai Vanijaka decides that all of this tells us there are real red shirts and fake red shirts. PPT isn’t sure how he would know apart from the fact that he recently spoke with a taxi driver who claimed to be a red shirt. As with most royalists, his focus is Thaksin. He also makes a point about the government’s timidity on lese majeste:
should the government be cowed by the fear of possibly losing power into sacrificing promises of justice, democracy and human rights; or – at the very least – should it have the courage to take some sort of a public stand, starting with the lese majeste law, to simply say something.
Readers might scoff at Voranai, an opponent of red shirts when they have been on the streets and a booster for the Democrat Party, suggesting that his question is a kind of yellow shirt provocation, hoping that the government will do something on amnesty and lese majeste in order that the “tanks and protesters on the streets and judges on the Constitution Court bench” can get into action again. Yet the question for the government is apt: “But to take some sort of a stance, to say a word or two against the abuse and exploitation of the lese majeste law should not be beyond the courage and conviction of the Pheu Thai government.”
Of course, Voranai doesn’t make any comparisons. It cannot be denied that this government’s track record on lese majeste charges is far superior to that of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, when lese majeste was just one of its tools in filling jails with opponents and censoring opposition media. So at least Voranai can ask about “promises of justice, democracy and human rights” for this government; under Abhisit such questions simply didn’t arise.
Update 1: Asia Provocateur posts on questions raised in the UK parliament regarding the lese majeste sentencing of Somyos. We found the answers interesting, where it was twice stated that the “Government frequently raises human rights concerns with Thailand, both at ministerial and official level.” In addition, the British say:
Following the verdict, the European Union issued a statement expressing deep concern at the decision to sentence Somyot to 10 years imprisonment. The statement noted that the verdict seriously undermined the right to freedom of expression and press freedom. Our ambassador has also raised the issue with the Thai authorities.
Update 2: With respect to the European experience, The Nation has a useful report from an EU-sponsored workshop in Bangkok.
Former Dutch Ambassador to Thailand Tjaco Van Den Hout declared that “diversity, tolerance and broadmindedness are fundamental aspects of human rights in Europe. He stressed that high tolerance for criticism of public figures, including that of politicians and head of state and monarchy, is necessary for a democratic society.”
Lese majeste scholar David Streckfuss pointed out that the “minimum mandatory punishment under Thai lese majeste law, which is three years imprisonment term, is as high as the maximum sentences stipulated in Jordan, Morocco and Belgium.” He added that Thailand, “is unique in the world when it comes to the severity of the law and the frequency of its use.”
Peter Mork Thomsen, a judge from Denmark who handled lese majeste cases said “Danish lese majeste law had no mandatory minimum punishment…”.