The king’s laundry I

21 05 2017

Thailand’s military dictatorship is expanding its already frantic efforts to create a political landscape cleansed of anything that shows the real king as other than the “official king.” Like slaves and handmaidens of centuries past, the junta is busy laundering the king’s image and cleaning up his own messes.

The laundered image is the often grim, sometimes seemingly bemused man in business suit and more often a military uniform, trailed by a daughter or officials appropriately bowed or slithering.

The only concession to a more real view is that the junta’s version does allow for the now most senior consort to be regularly seen.

His earlier and third wife, Srirasmi, had been thrown into house arrest and her family jailed in late 2015 as the then prince prepared for his reign.

The new, apparently official, number one consort is also often in the military uniform of a general. She was promoted by the king to this position. Her only “qualification” is that she is the king’s consort.

The image the junta launderers don’t want seen is that of the king trailing around his beloved Munich, dressed like fashion moron, sporting mail-order tattoo transfers and accompanied by another of his girlfriends, a legion of servants and a fluffy dog.

PPT doesn’t think fashion is a necessary qualification for being king. After all, that has to do with blood. Yet his “style” says something about the man. His desire to keep this side of his life from his Thai audience is also telling. (We do not believe that the military junta would be so frantic about these images if it wasn’t being pushed by a king known to be erratic, wilful and menacing.)

The seemingly demented efforts a week ago to threaten Facebook may not have been entirely successful, but they are again revealing. The Economist reflects on these bizarre and dangerous efforts to repress for the king:

Thailand has always treated its royals with exaggerated respect, periodically clapping people deemed to have insulted the king behind bars. But some thought the death of the long-reigning King Bhumibol in October and the accession of the less revered Vajiralongkorn might curb the monarchists’ excesses. Instead, it seems to have spurred them on. The military junta that runs the country is enforcing the draconian and anachronistic lèse-majesté law with greater relish than its predecessors.

We are not sure who could have thought that a new king, often secretive and with a reputation for vindictiveness, might have eased up.

Indeed, this king has a long history of lese majeste cases in his name. One of the first cases we wrote about at PPT was of Harry Nicolaides, an Australian who wrote a forgettable novel that included these lines:

From King Rama to the Crown Prince, the nobility was renowned for their romantic entanglements and intrigues. The Crown Prince had many wives “major and minor “with a coterie of concubines for entertainment. One of his recent wives was exiled with her entire family, including a son they conceived together, for an undisclosed indiscretion. He subsequently remarried with another woman and fathered another child. It was rumoured that if the prince fell in love with one of his minor wives and she betrayed him, she and her family would disappear with their name, familial lineage and all vestiges of their existence expunged forever.

Harry was probably writing of second wife, Yuvadhida, but the words could also be applied to the treatment  of Srirasmi.

Those words must have enraged somebody. They earned Harry a sentence of six years  in jail on 19 January 2009 (reduced to three years on pleading guilty). This for defaming the then crown prince now king.

If not in Thailand, where it is illegal, read Nicolaides’ novel here. Note that this scanned version of the book bears the stamp of the National Library of Thailand but should not be downloaded in Thailand.

The Economist continues:

At least 105 people have been detained or are serving prison sentences for lèse-majesté, compared with just five under the elected government the junta overthrew in 2014. Many of them posted critical comments about the royal family on social media; some simply shared or “liked” such comments. Other arrests have been on even pettier grounds. Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a student activist, is on trial for sharing a profile of King Vajiralongkorn published by the BBC’s Thai service. Police have warned that those agitating for his release could themselves face charges. A well-known academic, Sulak Sivaraksa, remains under investigation for several instances of lèse-majesté, including questioning whether a 16th-century battle involving a Thai king really took place.

As we have said, this number of lese majeste cases is too low. Quoting the low number allows the prince-now-king too much latitude. The lese majeste arrests and charges have been swelled by various palace purges by Prince, now King, Vajiralongkorn. Lese majeste has been widely used against those he dislikes. Give him the “credit” he deserves and for this nastiness and vindictiveness.

The Economist mentions the (almost) latest set of six cases (we will post separately on another set of cases):

This month security forces arrested Prawet Prapanukul, a human-rights lawyer best known for defending lèse-majesté suspects. He risks a record 150 years in jail if convicted of all ten counts of lèse-majesté he faces. Several recent sentences for insulting royals have exceeded 50 years; the standard for murder is 15-20 years.

All of this is followed by a banal claim by the newspaper: “Thai kings have a long history of fostering democratic reform…”. There is simply no adequate historical evidence for such a claim. It is a royalist fabrication based on notions of Thai-style democracy that is “democracy with the king as head of state,” exactly what the current junta is promoting: no democracy at all.

That Vajiralongkorn is going to be ruthless and anti-democratic should not be a surprise to anyone. He comes from a long line of anti-democratic kings who have protected privilege by working with the military. The only threat to the continuing of this monarch-military dictators alliance is if the junta gets so ticked off with the king that it decides to do away with him. That possibility seems somewhat remote.

The more likely outcome for the short to medium term is more censorship and ever more maniacal efforts to police the king’s image and wash his dirty laundry.





Shackling and fettering

20 12 2012
somyos

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk shackled in 2012

There’s a brief story at The Nation that caught PPT’s attention. In it, National Human Rights Commissioner Niran Pithakwatchara has “voiced concern about the use of fettering and its impact on human dignity.”

Apparently the “rules” that are currently used demand that “the fettering of all male inmates aged not over 60 to prevent any attempt at jailbreak or suicide.”

Niran seemed to think that  there was concern “[a]t the international level.” All lese majeste prisoners under 60 years are shackled on every court appearance.

Niran also raised issues regarding the health care provided to inmates, noting that lese majeste convict Ampol Tangnopakul died in jail earlier in 2012.

Joe Gordon in chains in 2011

Joe Gordon in chains in 2011

He also mentioned the case of Ampon Tangnoppakul, who died while serving a jail term for a lese-majeste offence earlier this year: “Niran pointed out that the Corrections Department might have failed to take care of Ampon’s health well enough.”

Harry Nicolaides in chains in 2009

Harry Nicolaides in leg irons in 2009

The Corrections Department’s senior executive Lawan Ornsamlee “explained that prisoners were only handcuffed at correctional facilities.” In 2011, the U.S. State Department stated: “Authorities also used heavy leg irons to control prisoners who were deemed escape risks or possibly dangerous to other prisoners.” She added that: “Only convicts held on grave offences are fettered by both ankles and wrists…”.

She continued to explain that: “Other prisoners were fettered in the same way only when they travelled out of correctional facilities.”

Lese majeste is deemed not a libel or a defamation but a “grave offense.” As the Constitutional Court has it, lese majeste is so serious that it threatens the very foundations of the state!





Update on lese majeste case against New Zealand citizen

19 08 2012

At Prachatai, there is an update on the case of Thitinant Kaewchantranont (the report is also available as: ตร.ยันหญิงก่อเหตุหมิ่นฯ ยังถูกอายัดตัว แพทย์เผยเป็นโรคจิตจริง เสนอความเห็น พนง.สืบสวนพรุ่งนี้).

The 63 year-old woman, who is a New Zealand citizen, is accused of lese majeste by rabid, neo-fascist yellow shirts, “has been diagnosed as mentally ill by psychiatrists.” Remarkably, though, this is not the end of the legal persecution:

If the accused are found to be permanently mentally ill, having committed the alleged crimes without being able to control themselves, they will probably be acquitted. But, if found to be temporarily mentally ill, they will probably be sentenced to punishment less severe than that prescribed in the law….

In other words, Thitinant could still be convicted and jailed for an act that would hardly raise an eyebrow in most constitutional monarchies around the world.

We would hope that her Embassy would not be cowed by the lese majeste nonsense and will be working tirelessly to return Thitinant to New Zealand. It won’t take much for them to be more pro-active than the U.S. Embassy was in the case of Joe Gordon and the Australians when Harry Nicolaides was jailed.





Nat Sattayapornpisut released in April

4 08 2012

Prachatai reports that Nat Sattayapornpisut was finally released from jail in April 2012 after serving 2 years and 4 months on lese majeste charges.

Nat’s case goes back to 2008, although it was only in October 2009 that the Criminal Court has agreed to a request by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to detain Nat , then aged 27, under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act after he was found to have sent offensive clips to a blog called StopLeseMajeste.

The DSI began investigations on 29 August 2008 that led to YouTube clips and the arrest of Suwicha Thakor and the discovery of an alias StopLeseMajeste. The latter was believed to belong to “Emilio Esteban,” a Briton living in Spain, who had been in email contact with Suwicha. Between 19 April 2008 and 15 September 2009, Esteban allegedly published contents offensive to the throne on his blogs and called for the abolition of the lese majeste law. The police gained access to Esteban’s email, where they allegedly found that on 21-23 July 2009 Nat had sent him three “offensive clips” which were then posted by Esterban.

DSI initially charged Nat with offenses under the Computer Crimes Act—disseminating pornographic materials through the internet – which we assume to be the naked pictures of various royals and associates that have long been in circulation.  He was eventually bailed out by his relatives with 200,000 baht in cash but a month later was summoned to the DSI, and further charged with lese majeste.

These charges are interesting as the website includes, in addition to some of the most childish clips that appeared at YouTube about the king, clips involving the crown prince and his various consorts in compromising situations as well as other royals in similar situations. Some of the clips are real and have been surreptitiously circulated in Thailand, while others are concocted and silly. Involving the crown prince’s private life has seen others jailed (such as Harry Nicolaides and Akechai Hongkangwarn).

There was very little news on Nat’s case until well after his release from prison in April 2012 and then via this Prachatai report.

It states that Nat went to court on 14 December 2009. He went alone and without a lawyer.  Without support and advice, when he was asked by court officials what he had decided to do he was also told that if he confessed, a verdict would be delivered immediately. He knew that “this kind of case was almost impossible to fight.” He confessed. That day he was found “guilty on three counts for sending three e-mails on 22-23 July 2009, and sentenced him to 9 years in prison, but reduced the term by half as he had pleaded guilty.

Nat’s time in prison was extremely difficult for him. Prachatai reports that “During his time, he got to know other ‘Section 112’ prisoners, starting with Wanchai Saetan who was in the same zone, Worawut Thanangkorn who was moved to the zone in early 2011, and then Thanthawut Thaweewarodomkul.  It was Thanthawut who told visitors about Nat and Wanchai.  As a result, from mid-2011 onward, Nat, who had previously been rarely visited, had more visitors, including red shirts and other concerned people, and that lifted his spirits.”

Nat now visits his compatriots who remain imprisoned on lese majeste charges.





Wikileaks: U.S. Ambassador Boyce offers lese majeste advice

3 09 2011

The latest release of cables from Wikileaks has a remarkable piece of “advice” from then U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce on how to deal with lese majeste charges against a U.S. citizen, based on a Swiss experience. The “Swiss experience” relates to the case of Oliver Jufer and embassies in Bangkok, Amnesty International and those who speak for them on blogs, tend to argue that quiet diplomacy and “working quietly behind the scenes”  carries the day when dealing with lese majeste.

Jufer (From The Telegraph)

For a refresher on Jufer’s case back in 2006-07, see these links: BBC1 (an excellent account by Jonathan Head), BBC2, Save a Life, and see the set of links at New Mandala. Jufer was arrested by 7 December 2006 (Below, Boyce says 5 December).

In Head’s report, there is this: “We had heard he was indignant when first arrested. He had planned to plead not guilty. But he has clearly been advised since, perhaps by his lawyer, or the Swiss Embassy, to change his tune.” He had already spent 3 months in prison awaiting trial. Several of the reports note the politicization of lese majeste by the military junta that came to power through the royalist coup of 2006. This is one example:

After Jufer was arrested, Gen Saprang Kanlayanamitr, deputy secretary-general of the Council for National Security, as the junta styles itself, said: “The suspect must have been hired by someone so I have ordered soldiers to investigate the incident and bring the mastermind of this crime to justice.” Nonetheless, Thai media have barely covered the case after police urged local journalists not to report it.

That statement by Saprang is reflective of the idiocy surrounding Thaksin Shinawatra and lese majeste following the coup, with Saprang suggesting that Jufer was put up to the act by the regime’s political opponents.

Jufer was sentenced to 20 years, reduced to 10 year because he was persuaded to change his plea to guilty. That guilty plea meant that no evidence was heard in the court.

Boyce

U.S. Ambassador Boyce, who has shown himself pro-coup and pro-junta in other cables, offers advice to the State Department. His cable begins with a reference to the “recent arrest and subsequent pardon of a Swiss national accused of offending Thailand’s revered King Bhumipol Adulyadej…”. It is as if this is all that matters. Jufer was arrested somewhere around 6 December 2006 and wasn’t pardoned and deported until 12 April 2007, meaning that he spent more than 4 months in prison for a drunken defacing of a few of the thousands of monarchy propaganda posters that are required around the time of the king’s birthday and that often stay up all year these days.

Boyce goes into the usual royalist spin about the monarch being revered and wielding “great moral authority” as if Boyce hadn’t been following the events of the past years and sending cables supportive of the palace’s politics during that time.

He then claims that this case “provided a rare window into the reaction of the palace to incidents of lese majeste” and adds that:

Swiss officials in Thailand believe their restrained response to the arrest, in spite of their public’s demand for strong action, contributed to the sooner-than-expected release of their citizen.

Boyce states that Jufer was:

sentenced to ten years imprisonment [PPT: in fact, it was 20 years, reduced for pleading guilty] after being convicted on lese majeste charges.” He “spraying black paint over five outdoor posters of King Bhumipol Adulyadej on December 5, 2006 (the King’s birthday) in the northern city of Chiang Mai. Jufer admitted to being drunk at the time and was reportedly angry that new laws limiting the times when alcohol can be sold prevented him from buying beer.

Boyce then makes some outlandish claims:

Sentences for lese majeste are typically hortatory in nature and offenders are normally pardoned by the king. Nevertheless, as evidenced by the recent ban of the popular web site YouTube (see reftel), the overwhelming popularity of the Thai sovereign compels the authorities to act should someone publicly slight the King or his family.

All that he state here is nonsense and it is clear that Boyce is making a series of royalist claims that are close to his heart. First, it is the law that is “hortatory,” not the sentences. Indeed, as several of the newspaper accounts cited above make very clear, there was precious little media coverage in Thailand and attempts to limit international coverage. It is the law itself that demands self-censorship and the repression of views that are not the same as those of royalists.  Second, the claim that the king is so widely adored that any “slight” against the king demands that the government acts puts him in la-la land. Boyce diverts attention from what PPT calls lese majeste repression and ignores long suppressed anti-monarchy sentiments that were widespread following the coup.

According to Swiss Embassy Minister Jacques Lauer, who helped coordinate the Swiss response to Jufer’s arrest, the Swiss government was surprised by how rapidly the King pardoned Jufer — a mere 13 days following his conviction and before Jufer had even filed an appeal or requested a royal pardon. Lauer indicated they had expected the King would follow tradition and wait until his 80th birthday, eight months later, to pardon Jufer and others accused of lese majeste. Lauer noted that Thai prison officials provided Swiss consular officials full access to Jufer.

PPT is unsure of the notion of “tradition” in sentencing and pardoning. A previous know case cited at Wikipedia says this:

Frenchman Lech Tomasz Kisielewicz allegedly committed lèse majesté in 1995 by making a derogatory remark about a Thai princess while on board a Thai Airways flight. Although in international airspace at the time, he was taken into custody upon landing in Bangkok and charged with offending the monarchy. He was detained for two weeks, released on bail, and acquitted after writing a letter of apology to the king, and deported.

It would seem that the “tradition” was not a tradition and depended on circumstances and whim. Kisielewicz was a relatively wealthy businessman with international connections and had refused to obey the instructions of an airline hostess who demanded he turn off his reading light that was said to have “inconvenienced” Princess Soamsawali, sitting in front of him. He was said to uttered derogatory remarks. In fact, Soamsawali is not covered by Article 112 but this case shows the illegality involved in the use of the law.

With no detail, background or previous experience cited, Boyce believes the Swiss got it right:

Minister Lauer credited Jufer’s speedy pardon to a Swiss decision to not antagonize Thai officials by making public comments, an action that may have provoked a backlash due to the public adoration of the King. Lauer claimed that intense international media attention and the public clamor in Switzerland for Jufer’s release made it difficult to balance the need to avoid offending their Thai interlocutors while appearing proactive in the eyes of the Swiss public. While historically relatively few foreigners have been accused of lese majeste, Lauer cautioned that should an AmCit be detained for lese majeste charges, any public criticism or appeals by USG officials would be tantamount to “throwing oil on the fire”.

There’s no evidence for this claim except the feeling espoused by an official who was criticized for his lack of action on the Jufer case. There is no contrary evidence because no embassy has been willing to take a public stand and criticize the Thai law and its use. Backbone has been lacking and still is. In addition, the U.S. relationship with Thailand is quite different from that between Switzerland and Thailand. Boyce concludes:

If an AmCit were to be charged with lese majeste, it is likely that a low key approach outside the public eye would stand the best chance of success in getting him or her out of custody and out of Thailand.

That seems to be the current line taken by the Embassy and State Department in dealing with the truly testing case of Joe Gordon, charged with offenses allegedly committed on U.S. soil.

Nicolaides

It might be noted that another embassy that seems to have followed the “don’t rock the boat” strategy is the Australian Embassy during the imprisonment of Australian citizen Harry Nicolaides. In this case, the Harry’s family complained about the Australian government’s approach and his lawyer became outspoken. As pointed out in our page on Nicolaides, while he mouthed appreciation for the efforts of governments, he seemed more concerned to thank the media and people in Australia for keeping the pressure on and support up. The Australian government appears to have believed that a guilty plea and conviction would result in a quick pardon and deportation. It took a month, meaning that Harry was in jail from 2 September 2008 to 20 February 2009. His return to Australia is chronicled here.

In his concluding comment, Boyce writes about the “King’s preexisting public statement that he will pardon anyone convicted of lese majeste…”. Of course, it is not as simple as Boyce’s propaganda-like statement makes out. If a guilty plea isn’t entered, getting a pardon seems not to be in the equation, unless it is a part of general sentence reductions and releases associated with the king’s birthday.

Boyce then really gets out on a thin limb by claiming that the “sooner-than-expected release of Jufer seem to indicate that the palace is uncomfortable with the strict application of lese majeste laws.” He adds that:

palace officials seem reluctant to let lese majeste be used as a tool to punish those who are accused of defaming the monarch. The palace appears quite sensitive to the possibility that lese majeste could be abused by non-palace actors to achieve their own ends.

They might be but these officials have since seemed all too eager to allow its political allies to use Article 112 for political purposes, most notably against red shirts. In fact, as the Anthony Chai case makes clear, palace officials are intimately involved in lese majeste cases.

The Wikileaks cables suggest that, by this point in his career as U.S. Ambassador, Boyce was doing little more than cheering for junta and monarchy. If his partisan advice now drives U.S. policy on lese majeste, then U.S. citizens can expect little support if they are caught up with  draconian lese majeste repression.





Somsak’s LM case continues to get international attention

6 06 2011

Somsak Jeamteerasakul’s case continues to gain international attention and generate concern. The latest story is a long one in the prestigious and well-read weekly, The Chronicle of Higher Education. Having the story covered in this paper means that tens of thousands are being apprised of the pernicious use of lese majeste in Thailand.

Much of the story will already be known to regular PPT readers.

Somsak is introduced as a history professor at Thammasat University, who “believes that Thailand’s monarchy should be reformed. He says the revered institution should be made more open, showing, for example, its financial books to the public. He also recently questioned what he called the political leanings of a princess. He does not call for the monarchy to be abolished but would like to see it modernized.”

It is noted that “elsewhere [Somsak would] be entitled to publish his scholarly writings and be shielded by notions of academic freedom, it is a different story altogether in his native Thailand.” Lese majeste prevails to prevent freedom of speech.

Somsak is cited as saying that the “law is used to intimidate those who oppose the establishment, and that he has been personally threatened.” One overseas scholar is cited as saying that “he has faced pressure from the Thai government to avoid such sensitive issues.”

The article mentions c=the related cases of Harry Nicolaides, Giles Ji Ungpakorn, and most recently, “Thai-born U.S. citizen who calls himself Joe Gordon was arrested here, charged with posting translations from an unauthorized biography of the Thai king that is banned. The book, written by the journalist Paul Handley, was published by Yale University Press in 2006; the Thai government subsequently blocked the university’s Web site.”

David Streckfuss is cited on the law having “a chilling effect on speech, but [that] the Somsak case may also be causing a backlash of sorts.” He observes: “There’s both more indiscriminate use of the law and at the same time a greater boldness…. People are pushing the line.” He adds: “There’s a new generation of activists who are not willing to back down…. There’s a newfound boldness that has the promise of opening up formerly academic issues to greater Thai society.”

Andrew Walker at the Australian National University says there is “persistent caution in the international academic community” because scholars do not want to endanger their access to Thailand. He might have added that the Thai elite rewards those who bolster the royalist position. PPT can think of those who regularly have the U.S. Department of State’s ear.

This is a big story, but PPT can’t help wondering if the royalist elite is politically deaf on this issue.





The prince and lese majeste

16 12 2010

PPT understand this Guardian story is now blocked in Thailand. Photo and links added by PPT:

WikiLeaks cables: Thai leaders doubt suitability of prince to become king

Embassy cables reveal fears over heir’s womanising and links to ousted PM damaging stabilising role of monarchy in Thailand

Mark Tran

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 15 December 2010 21.30 GMT

Thai leaders harbour grave misgivings about the crown prince’s fitness to become king owing to his reputation as a womaniser and links to a fugitive former prime minister, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable.

1981 - added to post by PPT

Three senior members of Thailand’s powerful privy council, a group of advisers appointed by the king, make clear their preference for an alternative to Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who is considered a political liability because of his extramarital affairs in several European countries.

The succession is of pressing concern as King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who turned 83 this month, is in poor health. Revered by most Thais, he is one of the few unifying figures in a country deeply divided between an urban elite and a rural poor.

The great fear within the authorities is that with the divisive figure of the crown prince as king, any future political turbulence could split Thailand in two. The military and the police rely on loyalty to the crown to maintain control and without it their authority would be greatly weakened.

This year Thailand experienced the worst political violence in its modern history. Ninety-one people died as protesters who support Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted as prime minister in a 2006 military coup, called for the dissolution of parliament and new elections. A state of emergency imposed at the time still remains in force.

The cable, written by the US ambassador, Eric John, in January, reports on his conversations with General Prem Tinsulanonda, the head of the privy council and a former prime minister, Anand Panyarachun, another former prime minister, and Air Chief Marshall Siddhi Savetsila.

“All three had quite negative comments about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn,” the cable reads. “While asserting that the crown prince will become King, both Siddhi and Anand implied the country would be better off if other arrangements could be made. Siddhi expressed preference for Princess Sirindhorn; Anand suggested only the King would be in a position to change succession, and acknowledged a low likelihood of that happening.”

There are repeated references to the prince’s affairs. When the US ambassador asked where the prince was, Prem is quoted as saying: “You know his social life, how he is,” which John says is a “presumed reference to Vajiralongkorn’s preference to spend time based out of Munich with his main mistress, rather than in Thailand with his wife and son”.

John also conveys Siddhi’s observations about the prince’s dalliances. The cable states: “Siddhi, in a similar vein, noted that the Crown Prince frequently slipped away from Thailand, and that information about his air hostess mistresses was widely available on websites; he lamented how his former aide, now Thai ambassador to Germany, was forced to leave Berlin for Munich often to receive Vajiralongkorn.”

Apart from their concerns over the prince’s behaviour, the privy council members also express unease over his ties with the fugitive ex-prime minister Thaksin, best known in the UK for owning Manchester City football club from 2007 to 2008. Thaksin spends most of his time in Dubai in self-imposed exile.

“Prem acknowledged Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn probably maintained some sort of relationship with fugitive former PM Thaksin, ‘seeing him from time to time’. Prem, clearly no fan of either man, cautioned that Thaksin ran the risk of self-delusion if he thought that the Crown Prince would act as his friend/supporter in the future merely because of Thaksin’s monetary support; ‘he does not enjoy that sort of relationship.'”

In the cable, Anand blames the king’s poor health partly on Thaksin, who at the time was acting as a political adviser to the Cambodian government. The king was in hospital in January, exercising 30 minutes a day on a stationary bicycle and passing a medicine ball with a physical therapist to build up strength and regain weight.

Despite their reservations about the crown prince, John’s interlocutors seemed resigned to his becoming king.

“Anand said that he had always believed that the Crown Prince would succeed his father, according to law. However, there could be complicating factors – if Vajiralongkorn proved unable to stay out of politics, or avoid embarrassing financial transactions … The consensus view among many Thai was that the Crown Prince could not stop either, nor would he be able, at age 57, to rectify his behaviour,” the cable reads.

“After another pause, Anand added that someone really should raise the matter with the King, before adding with regret that there really was no one who could raise such a delicate topic (note: implied was the need for an alternative to Vajiralongkorn).”

Royal intrigue is also conveyed in another cable by John in October 2008. This confidential message reports on complaints by Samak Sundaravej, a former prime minister, that Queen Sirikit encouraged the coup that overthrew Thaksin.

“He showed disdain for Queen Sirikit,” John writes, “claiming that she had been responsible for the 2006 coup d’etat as well as the ongoing turmoil generated by PAD [People’s Alliance for Democracy] protests. He alleged the Queen operated through privy council president Prem Tinsulanonda who, along with others presenting themselves as royalists, worked with the PAD and other agitators. Citing his own regular meetings with King Bhumibol, Samak claimed he – rather than his opponents – was sincerely loyal to the king and enjoyed the king’s support.”

What constitutes an insult?

The Thai royal family is protected by the country’s lese majesty laws, making it an offence to insult the monarchy.

Under article 112, anyone can file a complaint against someone they consider to have defamed the monarch.

Missing from the code, however, is a definition of what actions constitute defamation or insult. Neither the king nor any member of the royal family has ever filed any charges under this law.

In 2005, King Bhumibol encouraged criticism: “I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know.” He later added: “But the king can do wrong.”

Since 2005, use of the law has been on the rise, for politicians, journalists and activists.

In March 2007, a Swiss, Oliver Jufer, convicted of lese majesty, was sentenced to 10 years for spray-painting graffiti on portraits of the king while drunk. He was pardoned then deported.

In 2008, Jonathan Head, the BBC’s south-east Asia correspondent and vice-president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, was accused of lese majesty by a police colonel, Watanasak Mungkijakarndee. Watanasak said Head’s reporting between 2006 and 2008 had “damaged and insulted the monarchy”. The BBC rejected the charges as groundless.

Also in 2008, Harry Nicolaides, an Australian, was arrested at Bangkok’s international airport and charged with lese majesty, for an offending passage in his self-published book Verismilitude [large PDF download]. After pleading guilty, he was jailed for three years. He was deported last year after being pardoned by the king.

In June, the Thai government, which has removed tens of thousands of web pages in recent years for insulting the royal family, approved the creation of an online crime agency that will pursue alleged violators of the lese majesty laws.