Caving in

1 04 2018

The repression associated with lese majeste is critical for the maintenance of the status quo in Thailand. So critical in fact that even the thought of an amendment to the law is greeted with threats of violence. As it has been for seven decades, the rightist alliance between monarchy and military is a keystone for the establishment order in Thailand, with lese majeste, ultra-royalist ideology and murderous enforcement are the means for maintaining that conservative order.

When the Anakhot Mai/New Future/Future Forward Party was recently formed, ultra-royalists foamed and fumed about a young academic lawyer, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, who had once called for minor amendments to Article 112 of the criminal code. Ultra-royalist Sonthiya Sawatdee “petitioned the Election Commission … to disqualify the FFP. He alleged that Piyabutr’s previous involvement with the anti-lèse majesté group Nitirat had caused conflicts among the country’s population, in violation of the Organic Act on Political Parties.”

Knowing that in royalist Thailand Sonthiya’s banal claim may well carry weight, Piyabutr immediately went into reverse political gear, declaring “he would not press the issue of amending the lèse majesté law in the new party…”. He is quoted: “I insist that I will not involve the party in the issue of amending Article 112 of the Criminal Code and will not press the issue in the party…”.

Piyabutr’s backpedaling has opened debate.

Exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, himself a victim of ultra-royalist and military attacks, “commented that without the issue of amending Article 112, the new party would be just a smaller version of the Phue Thai Party.” He saw a familiar path being taken whereby the young become prematurely old as they flinch on the most significant political issue of recent years, the monarchy.

Somsak believes that the new party didn’t have to say anything:

“When the party’s general meeting (to pass policies, select executives, etc.) happens, and Piyabutr or other important party members see that it is inappropriate to put the issue of Article 112 into the policies because it will lead to the party’s disqualification, then just remove it and register without this issue. So what’s the necessity of yesterday’s announcement [by Piyabutr]? I can’t’ see one…”.

He might have added that the new party has little chance of attracting large numbers of voters, so the strategic withdrawal on monarchy means little more than another ultra-royalist and military victory in its crusade to “protect” the monarchy and, thus, the establishment.

Puangthong Pawakapan of the now-defunct Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 was less critical, saying Piyabutr ‘s vow was unsurprising as “the political establishment never hesitates to suppress those who challenge the royal defamation law, making an amendment to Article 112 through legislative measures nearly impossible.”

Puangthong added:

“The difficulties in this issue are not about the number of votes in the parliament, but it is a sensitive issue that political parties are afraid to touch because they will be easily attacked by anti-monarchy allegations…. This is why all political parties are afraid to fix this issue. This is why people’s signatories and the draft amendment [to Article 112] by the CCAA 112 was immediately rejected by the Parliament Chairperson, who was at that time a Phue Thai MP.”

It is clear that Puangthong “believes that Piyabutr’s statement was a strategic move to ensure that the FFP will wins seats in the parliament, which will allow the party to make progress on other significant political missions, like eliminating the military influence from Thai politics.”

We recall, back in 2004-2005, so-called progressives signing up to the People’s Alliance for Democracy and its royalist agenda, using a similar line of argument. They may have been anti-monarchy or even republican, but saw the need to get rid rid of Thaksin Shinawatra as being so crucial that they could accommodate the royalist stuff, and fix the monarchy later. How did that turn out for them? Most are now ardent royalists.

An open letter to judges/จดหมายเปิดผนึกถึงผู้พิพากษาและตุลาการ

20 03 2013

The Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112, The 24th of June for Democracy, Saeng Samnuk Writer Club, Poets for People, Patinya Na San and Nitirat have issued an open letter to Thai judges arguing for significant constitutional change.

Download them in English and ไทย here.

If we have time, we’ll come back to these with some commentary.

Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 back at work

17 02 2013

The Nation reports that the Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 is back on the job, and has sent “a petition to House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont to review his decision rejecting the 112 amendment drafted by the committee.”

Last October Somsak “rejected the draft amendment on the grounds the group had no constitutional right to table the amendment draft because Article 112 – which involves lese majeste offences – was not a Constitutional law.”

The academics have responded that this is incorrect as “Article 112 was under chapter 3 of the Criminal Code, featuring the rights and freedom of Thai citizens …[and] is enforced to limit the rights and freedom of expression, and punishment under the law is 15 years maximum, which also adversely affects the rights and liberty of the individual.” They argue that  dismissed Somsak’s rejection “was in violation of Article 30 of the Administrative Procedures 1996.”

Updated: Somyos verdict on 23 January

19 12 2012

Many, including Somyos Prueksakasemsuk‘s lawyer, had thought that 19 December would see a verdict in his lese majeste case. In fact, though, with more than 100 people at the court, the verdict was delayed until 23 January 2013.

Those present “included the defendant’s wife and son, representatives from several European embassies, including Denmark and Germany, and the European Commission [and] … [i]nternational and local NGOs such as Freedom House, Human Rights Watch and Union for Civil Liberty…”.Somyos

What they got was “a lengthy explanation of the Constitution Court’s ruling that the Penal Code’s Section 112, known as the lese majeste law, is not contrary to the constitution.” Of course, the law is an affront to several provisions in the junta’s 2007 constitution, but royalist judges produce political rather than legal decisions. The Constitutional Court holds “that the principle of Section 112 of the Penal Code is in line with providing protection to the King, an institution and head of the state of Thailand.” It argues for the protection of the royalist state and ignores or does not rule on numerous other articles in the constitution that are meant to protect free speech and other liberties. Further, it makes its protection of the royalist state clear:

Commission of offences under Section 112 of the Penal Code shall affect the security of the state as the King is an institution the constitution recognises and protects, and is part of the democratic regime of government with the King as the head of state.

It rests this claim on the second paragraph of Section 45 of the constitution which states:

The restriction on liberty under paragraph one [A person shall enjoy the liberty to express his opinion, make speech, write, print, publicise, and make expression by other means] shall not be imposed except by virtue of the law specifically enacted for the purpose of maintaining the security of State, protecting the rights, liberties, dignity, reputation, family or privacy rights of other person[s], maintaining public order or good morals or preventing or halting the deterioration of the mind or health of the public.

Following all of this royalist political squirming, there was unusual dissension:

Attendants moved to calm the public gallery, which erupted noisily after the lengthy explanation, particularly when it was announced the judgement on Mr Somyos would not be delivered right away but delayed until Jan 23, 2013.

Somyos responded by observing that the “lese majeste law remained a problem affecting the whole justice system, and undermined  the integrity of the revered institution of the monarchy.” He then attacked the current government:

“What I feel sorry about is that the parliament and the Yingluck administration are somewhat cowardly. The people-initiated amendment under the banner of the Committee to Campaign for the Amendment of Section 112 is an important move and the way this effort was belittled and stopped is a loss to our society.

“It’s of immeasurable regret that social justice and protection of the institution of the monarchy [through the proposed amendment] cannot be achieved,” said Mr Somyos.

“It’s a pity that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra does not dare to take the lead in this case. Her cowardice and indecisiveness make her no different to other dictators,” he said.

At the same time, Somyos said he believed he would not be found guilty and sated that “the law [under which] he was charged under is unjust.”

It is worth noting that the delays in this case have caused Somyos to be imprisoned since 30 April 2011, meaning that his verdict will come after 21 months of incarceration that saw his case repeatedly delayed and Somyos chained and dragged around the country for meaningless provincial hearings.

Update: The Nation adds further to the judge’s comments on lese majeste and constitutionality, adding further to our comment that “royalist judges produce political rather than legal decisions.” According to the report, the judge stated the the alleged “reverence” for the king “is a unique characteristic found in Thailand and unlike anywhere else.” The judge is cited as having “further quoted from the Constitution Court’s ruling by adding that violating the lese-majeste law by defaming the monarchy was tantamount to ‘hurting the feelings of Thai people’, thus the harsher penalty compared to defaming an ordinary person was ‘justified’.” These nonsensical claims have nothing to do with law but much to do with politics and the cult of personality, which far from being “unlike anywhere else” is historically rather common.

Lese majeste politics

7 11 2012

Pravit Rojanaphruk begins his story on the ditching of the citizen-proposed lese majeste bill at The Nation with this:

Hope that the lese majeste law might be amended under the Yingluck Shinawatra government was unceremoniously dashed last week.

In fact, they were dashed during the election campaign and soon after. The timid government decided that lese majeste was simply too divisive and that having the military brass and palace on the war path accusing Puea Thai of disloyalty was best avoided.

Pravit refers to House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranond’s rejection and claims by Somsak’s spokesperson that “the issue was tied to the monarchy, the current charter forbids any changes of law related to the institution…”.

PPT thinks this is the usual spinelessness on the monarchy and doubts that the claim is sound. But legal soundness means nothing in royalist Thailand.

Pravit reckons that the summary rejection of the Campaign Committee for Amendment of Article 112 bill “will likely send people to seek other means to undermine the blanket censorship imposed on anything mildly critical of the monarchy institution…”. He adds that:

The shutting down of legal debate is unlikely to curb the sense of injustice suffered by Thais who value freedom of expression and who feel that it is long overdue for scrutiny and open criticism of the monarchy like those in the United Kingdom, Japan and Spain. They feel this is a fundamental right and that they can always compare how monarchies in other democratic countries are criticised and made publicly accountable.

We agree. PPT also agrees with Pravit’s observation that:

Some defenders of the law say the majority of Thais are not intelligent or mature enough to be able to separate fact from fiction, and lies from reliable information. Others may in fact be afraid that people are in fact smart enough and able think for themselves. While many ultra-royalists will readily venture to tell Thais and foreigners alike that most if not all Thais love and revere HM the King, these very people contradict themselves when they express fear about what may become of the institution if people are suddenly free, able to access and critically discuss, or even criticise the monarchy.

As long as this political and repressive law remains and continues to be used and abused, royalists and the palace itself remain defensive and skittish, knowing that there is remarkable dissatisfaction with the status quo and that there are some major obstacles for the palace ahead, including the greying of the palace, more health problems, and succession.

Protecting the lese majeste law

4 11 2012

There’s a brief story at Prachatai, which many readers will have seen, that deserves emphasis, especially as it is unlikely to get much attention in the mainstream media. Once again, it shows how the conservative elite in Thailand is more than willing to take arguably illegal action when “protecting” the monarchy and when “protecting” the law that “protects the monarchy.”

On 29 May 2012, a bill was “proposed by academics and citizens to change Article 112 of the Criminal Code,” and was signed by 30,383 persons. It was presented to parliament by “Charnvit Kasetsiri, former Rector of Thammasat University, the Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 and hundreds of activists…”. The proposal was associated with the Nitirat legal group.

Chapter 7 of the 2007 Constitution is about “Direct Political Participation of the Public” and  Section 163 states: “The persons having the right to vote of not less than ten thousand in number shall have a right to submit a petition to the President of the National Assembly to consider such bill as prescribed in Chapter 3 and Chapter 5 of this Constitution.”

Prachatai reports that on 26 September the President of Parliament has summarily dismissed this popularly proposed bill with the claim that (p. 31 in this PDF, snipped below) the bill was not in accordance with chapters 3 and 5 of the constitution.

That this is a pathetic and spineless response to more than 30,000 voters is indicated when one considers that there are 43 sections in Chapter 3 of the Constitution and 17 in Chapter 5. Sure, this is a summary of the decision, and PPT would hope that this representative of the people would have sufficient sense and manners to actually specify which of the 60 sections he considers are infringed by the proposed bill.

Essentially this decision by the parliament’s boss is decreeing that no citizen or group of citizens has any right to call fr amendments to the lese majeste law under the constitution. That is, the interpretation must be that the monarchy outweighs more than 68 million citizens. We can think of no double standard in Thai law that is more obvious than this one: that judiciary, law, constitution and administrative rules are designed to protect the wealthiest and most powerful. Of course, the conservative ruling class demands this as the foundation on which all privilege and all other double standards are constructed. And when this class wants to toss out laws, it can use the repressive power of the military to achieve its ends.

Panicked on the monarchy

23 06 2012

There’s a long and interesting report at Bloomberg Businessweek by Daniel Ten Kate worthy of attention. For those who want to see political change in Thailand, it will be demoralizing to learn that:

Only about three of 500 House of Representatives members support a bill that reduces jail terms for people convicted of royal insults, according to Jarupan Kuldiloke, one of the members backing the effort. The ruling party has declined to endorse it.

Well we all knew that the Puea Thai Party under the non-leadership of Yingluck Shinawatra has an “aversion” to doing the right thing on lese majeste. Kate cites academic Michael Connors in asserting that this aversion “may bolster its [the government’s] monarchist credentials…” and avert its ouster. This is a myth. As PPT has highlighted since the day the Puea Thai government was elected, no Shinawatra is ever going to be allowed back into the royalist elite. This government is already on the way out via judicial coup.

That all but three MPs are deluded and spineless is a sad reflection on a parliament that has existed, on and off  for almost 80 years. After all, the bill doesn’t abolish the law, it just makes it less draconian.

It seems that the bill on lese majeste mentioned is the result of the Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 “petition with about 30,000 signatures from members of the public, triple the amount required by the constitution for lawmakers to consider legislative initiatives.”

If the Puea Thai Party are spineless and neglecting their political base, the royalist Democrat Party is playing to its ultra-royalist political ballast, with its loudmouthed spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut asserting that hsi anti-democratic party is “not supporting the people who use this to attack the royal family…. The royal family needs protection.” Yes, the party of royalists has long supported the country’s richest “institution.”

That’s why the number of lese majeste cases surged while the Democrat Party served as government following a judicial coup in 2008 and with the support of the military and palace.

Kate then quotes Komsan Phokong, said to be “a law lecturer at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.” In fact, Komsan is a member of the ultra-royalist and neo-fascist Sayam Prachapiwat group, and rants on foreigners and lese majeste:

Foreigners shouldn’t interfere with our issue because they don’t understand us…. The status of our king and other kings in western countries are totally different. Our king is the center of people’s hearts. They can’t use their standards to judge our case.

Quoting political fruit loops like Komsan is easy journalistic pickings.

Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom

More significant is the observation by Charnvit Kasetsiri, “a former rector of Thammasat University who helped present the bill to parliament”:

Even if rejected, the proposals are useful for educating people about the need to change Article 112 before challenges escalate as the succession to King Bhumibol approaches, according to

“On the surface Thailand looks like a land of smiles,” Charnvit said. “But deep down in cyberspace, with the coming of the new world, it’s rather messy.”

In the context of this notion of adult education, readers may wish to read this piece on Overcoming Fear of Monarchy.