Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Get Drunk, Spray Paint King Bumibol's Picture, Go To Jail In Thailand For 15 Years

Analysis: Thailand’s draconian lese-majeste law

World Peace Herald

Senior Business Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- Disregard for democracy and the rule of law may be tolerated in Thailand. But when it comes to insulting the country's monarch, caution is needed or else the critic may well face prison time.

That's what happened to Oliver Jufer, a 57-year-old Swiss national who could face up to 75 years in prison for violating Thailand's lese-majeste, otherwise known as a crime against the sovereign law. Jufer was arrested in December for spray-painting several public portraits of King Bhumibol Adulyadej while drunk. His hearing was held in the northern city of Chiang Mai Monday, where he pleaded guilty to five charges of violating the law against the sovereign. Each charge carries a penalty of three to 15 years in jail.

While it is unlikely he would face the maximum sentence, his lawyer Komkrit Kunyodying said that the minimum sentence Jufer could face was seven years, particularly as he has lived in the country for over ten years and thus should have been well aware of lese-majeste. Another black mark against the Swiss man is that he chose to destroy the king's portraits on Dec. 5, the king's birthday and a national holiday. In addition, Jufer was caught in the act on surveillance cameras which have been used as evidence against him. He is expected to be sentenced at the end of this month.

The world's longest-reigning monarch is protected by the law, which allows anyone to file a complaint with the police, and many critics have pointed out that this has made people shy away from discussing the monarch in public at all.

So Jufer is far from the only foreigner who has been apprehended by the authorities for insulting the king. One of the more remarkable cases was in 1995, when Lech Tomacz Kisielwicz of France was arrested for making scathing comments about a Thai princess on board a Thai Airways flight, even though the plane was traveling in international air space at that time. He was detained for two weeks upon arrival in Bangkok airport, and only after writing a letter of apology to the king was he released on bail.

The king himself has expressed his concerns about the law that will not tolerate any criticism against him.

In a speech on his 73rd birthday in 2005, the king stated, "I can be criticized that sometimes I might be wrong, so that I will know I am wrong. If they criticize me that I am wrong, I'd like to know where it is that I am wrong."


I think this is a stupid law, of course. Because of the nature of the mass media in this day in age, I can understand why Thailand would like to have at least one sacred institution that is revered and respected, but if the country wants to be a liberal democracy, the law is not consistent with a free political system.

You can follow the discussion over at New Mandala also here.

Siam Sentinel also

Jotman also mentions a Telegraph article here

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