Lese majeste and the need for secrecy

18 02 2014

PPT missed this story a couple of days ago regarding yet another, essentially unconstitutional, in-camera trial of another lese majeste case.

Prachatai reports that the South Bangkok Criminal Court has agreed to a “request from the Public Prosecutor to hold in camera the trial of a 65-year-old man charged with Article 112 or lèse majesté law for selling a banned book on the death of the King Rama VIII.”

On 11 February, the defendant U. (name withheld) who is a book seller operating from temporary stalls and at street markets, has been charged with selling a Thai translation of The Devil’s Discus by Rayne Kruger.That book was an account of several possible causes of the gunshot death of King Ananda Mahidol in 1946 and was published in English in 1964.The book was “banned under the now-abolished Printing Act.”

PPT has several posts on the book. One of our posts was of an earlier report of this case, including a name-redacted PDF of the prosecutions charge sheet that can be downloaded here (6 pages). The Thai-language version กงจักรปีศาจหลัง is scarce, but see commentary here. There’s also a long discussion at New Mandala from 2008. The Thai translation is reportedly by Chalit Chaisithiwet and was published in 1974.

The defendant was reportedly “arrested when selling books at a People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) gathering at Lumpini Park” on 2 May 2006.

The Public Prosecutor claims “there are six sections in the book which constitute lèse majesté. The six sections are the author’s presentation of “theories” about the cause of the king’s death which involve the current king.” While most informed observers now seem to assume that the then King was accidentally killed by the present king, Kruger “concluded that the former king was likely to have committed suicide because his relationship with a foreign woman was unacceptable.”

The courtroom door has a sign that says “Secret Trial. No Entry.” In the trial, Permanent Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office, Thongthong Chandrangsu again appeared as “an expert on monarchical ceremonies” and testified as a prosecution witness, something he has made a habit. It is reported that Thongthong admitted “he did not finish the book,” but he considered “the six selected sections which involve the current king, … to be lèse majesté.” Thongthong also revealed that:

although the book says the assumptions in the six sections are likely to be impossible and comes to a different conclusion, it does not disprove those assumptions involving the current king. Someone reading the book may possibly believe in one of the theories [involving the current king].

The defendant’s attorney rightly observed to the court that “to determine whether a book constitutes lèse majesté or not, one needs to read the whole book, not a selected part.” Of course, any reasonable person would agree, but here we are dealing with the irrationality of lese majeste where reasonableness is the first casualty of the politicized nonsense that is supposed to be a court proceeding.

The case continues on 25 March. Prachatai states that an “international human rights body submitted a letter to the court to observe the secret trial, but the court did not approve the request…”. It is far easier to hold a secret trial where the shenanigans of the court cannot be scrutinized.

Updated: Somyos convicted

23 01 2013

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk has been convicted on lese majeste charges. The Bangkok Post reports that he has been “sentenced to five years on each of the two charges, and the court cancelled the suspension of a previous one-year sentence – for a total of 11 years in prison, a cumulative sentence.” It adds that the harshness of the sentence “caught both Somyot and his family – his wife and son – totally by surprise…”.

The sentence was 11 years because the court “said Somyot was given a one-year suspended jail term in 2009 but he had again committed the crime of defaming the royal institution and threatening and insulting the monarchy, so his previous prison term was added to the five-year sentence for each of the two fresh offences he committed by publishing the two articles. In total, he was sentenced to 11 years.”

He will appeal the conviction.

Some 200 supporters who packed the courtroom were “from the diplomatic community, civil society and the media, along with members of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)…”.

According to the report, the four-judge panel “rebutted the arguments and opinions given by seven defence witnesses but put weight on prosecution witnesses, including Tongthong Chandrangsu, the Prime Minister’s Office permanent secretary, security officers from the Internal Security Operating Command (Isoc), and librarians at the National Library of Thailand,” while ignoring defense claims that the author of the articles “revealed to the court as Jakrapob Penkair, was not a defendant in the case,” and so the editor of the magazine should not be convicted.

It is reported that the:

Clean Clothes Campaign, the Free Somyot Campaign and the Thai Labour Campaign also deplored Somyot’s conviction, saying he is a prisoner of conscience and was convicted solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and opinion, and the right to participate in public life….

They agreed the judgement is a serious blow to the rule of law in Thailand and would further contribute to self-censorship. The ruling was a violation of international human rights law, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand had ratified.

Nitirat, Somyos and lese majeste

26 04 2012

Readers may be wondering what has happened to the Nitirat group of lawyers proposing lese majeste, constitutional and other legal reform. It is back in the news.

At the Bangkok Post, Worachet Pakeerut states that the group “will continue campaigning for an amendment to Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law.” He added that the group now had the required 10,000 signatures  to push parliament to consider amendment of the law.

Of course, that doesn’t help Somyos Prueksakasemsuk who faces a court case on lese majeste right now. But interestingly, a prosecution witness, the royalist Thongthong Chandrangsu, who is now Permanent Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office – yes, a royalist is running Yingluck Shinawatra’s show – has made a direct link.

At Prachatai it is reported that Thongthong, who some claim is a legal expert on the constitution and king, told the court that:

in his opinion one of the two articles in the Voice of Taksin magazine which referred to the history of late Thonburi and early Rattanakosin period was defamatory….

And he went further. He stated stating that Article 112 was currently “harsher than it was during the absolute monarchy” and stating that “in his view the penalty of 3-15 years’ imprisonment is too harsh and not proportionate to the offence.” He observed that “more serious crimes were subject to less severe punishment [than lèse majesté offences].”

He also noted serious discrepancies between Article 112 of the Criminal Code and Article 326 “which involved ordinary people.” He appeared to accept that Article 112 offences involved “national security, but not to the extent that the state would not survive.”

Then he stated that:

amendment of Section 112 as proposed by the Nitirat group would retain the true principles of the law as opposed to being used as a political tool.

Meanwhile, at the Bangkok Post, Nitirat is reported to have “voiced opposition to a general amnesty for all political offenders proposed as part of the government’s attempts to achieve national reconciliation.”




Attacking Bowornsak on petitioning the king

10 08 2009

The Nation (9 August 2009: “Red shirts are ‘within rights’ to petition King”) has a really very interesting report that provides something of a historical perspective on petitions to the king and their political use.

It concerns statements by Borwornsak Uwanno opposing the petition by UDD-red shirts seeking a “royal pardon” for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Speaking to religious and local leaders assembled at the parliament, Borwornsak claimed that the red shirt petition “had brought division to society and was destructive of Thai culture because the petitioners had an ulterior motive in citing a massive number of people behind the move. He told the leaders to help bring peace to society and not let a group of people cite the achievement of one person to [be] compared with His Majesty the King, who had worked hard for 63 years for his subjects.” He opined: “You are our only hope, because we cannot see hope in the government leaders…”.

The irony of a legal scholar who is Secretary-General of the supposedly democracy-promoting King Prajadhipok Institute, speaking in the parliament and denigrating politicians in such a way should not be ignored. But for a died-in-the-wool royalist, such a move must seem natural.

PPT has posted on Borwornsak previously, here, here, and here.

Bowornsak was also head of the King Prajadhipok Institute before he became cabinet secretary-general under Thaksin. Long one of Thailand’s “public intellectuals,” he readily switches jobs and political alliances, writing commentaries for the media, taking government positions and maintaining links to the academy. Following the 2006 coup, he was appointed by the military junta to the National Legislative Assembly. That appointment came under critical comment because he was a late defector from Thaksin’s government.

Commenting on Bowornsak’s repeated opposition to the UDD petition, Pichit Chuenban who is one of Thaksin’s lawyers, compared the Thaksin petition to a petition in 1988 to force then prime minister General Prem Tinsulanonda not to seek another term. Pichit claimed this petition was a precedent for the current petition. He also pointed out that the 1988 petition was signed by 99 academics, including Borwornsak, who politically opposed Prem and did so through a public petitioning of the king. How times have changed with former enemies are now sworn allies!

It included others who also oppose the Thaksin petition, including Chirmsak Pinthong and Thongthong Chandrangsu. PPT notes that one of the organizers of the anti-Prem petition was Chai-Anan Samudavanija (see here), now a PAD ideologue and leading critic of the Thaksin petition. All these royalists consider “political” petitions to be wrong.

As Pichit points out, “What Borwornsak did is called a political petition, is it not? What Thaksin’s supporters are filing is not a political petition, because they are suffering from economic and political distress and they have the right to seek Royal clemency to alleviate their plight. They are not just seeking a Royal pardon for Thaksin…”. Pichit also accused Borworksak of “citing laws and regulations that had been scrapped long ago in opposing the petition.”

In response, 1988 petitioner Chirmsak determined that his actions were different. The petition he signed was “aimed at persuading Prem to step down as an unelected prime minister and that no Royal pardon had been sought for anyone at that time.”

Meanwhile, responding Prime Minister Abhist Vejjajiva’s claim that the Thaksin petition was illegal, Peua Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit pointed out that Abhisit had in his time petitioned the king for a royally appointed prime minister. This was back in 2006, when PAD called for the use of Article 7 of the then 1997 constitution to get rid of the Thaksin as prime minister.

PPT questions the very idea of being able to petition a king for anything in a democracy. However, under the current conditions, the arguments about the legality and appropriateness of the move, combined with the historical ironies and side-switching noted above, make for interesting political times. Using a royalist idea that is a part of the monarchy’s ideological position as a political ploy is a neat move, causing the royalists to become spitting mad.

Another report on the lesé majesté seminar

25 03 2009

The Bangkok Post (25 March 2009: “Taking time to consider lese majeste law”) has a detailed report on last weekend’s lesé majesté meetings and academic discussions, citing Nidhi Eowsriwong, Kasian Tejapira and Tongthong Chandrangsu.

Academics discuss lesé majesté

21 03 2009

Pravit Rojanaphruk, writing in The Nation (22 March 2009: “Lesé majesté: Differences of legal opinion aired at forum on defamation of royalty”) reports on the first day of the academic conference on the lesé majesté law at Thammasat University. At least four points deserve repeating.

First, Professor Thongthong Chandrangsu, described in the report as “a well-known royalist, expert on royal history and former dean of Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Law” claimed that the “broad use of lese-majeste law is not beneficial to the monarchy” and added, “I don’t see the letter of the law as problematic, but the application of it is when used in an all-encompassing way. That is my honest opinion…”. This position is reasonably close to that espoused by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Second, historian Nidhi Eowsriwong made the all-too-obvious point that “Thailand had yet to reach a consensus on the dividing line between the protection of the monarchy and the protection of citizens’ rights to freedom of expression.” More significantly, he added that what he termed “sacred space,” where the “monarchy was revered must be reduced to fit a democratic system.” Nidhi also urged certain political groups to stop using the fear of republicanism as a political weapon.

Third, Thammasat University political scientist Kasian Tejapira expressed concern about the “growing state coercion of citizens to protect the monarchy…”. He added, “Those who support the protection of the monarchy principally through coercion damage the monarchy…. They may unknowingly shift towards fascism in the name of monarchy…”. Kasian considered that reform had to be on the political agenda.

Fourth, lawyer Thongbai Thongpao pointed out that “there was a need to keep proper and reliable data on who was being put in prison because of the law. he said that: “There’s no file on those tried under lese-majeste law…”. Thongbai, added that he had not wanted to come and speak for fear of breaking the law.

The Bangkok Post (22 March 2009) has a short and shallow report on the event.

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