Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bangkok Post: Academic David Streckfuss Discuss Lese Majeste

Is it now time to discuss lese majeste law?

With the current political turmoil spawning a spate of lese majeste charges, what can be done to prevent the law from being abused?

Bangkok Post


Has the time come for the lese majeste law in Thailand to be reconsidered? The question is worth asking especially in times of political turmoil like this that inevitably spawns a spate of lese majeste accusations. The question deserves a thoughtful and serious response.

Like many laws, the Thai lese majeste law, as written, may have outlived its original purpose and its use has simply devolved into insensibility. Rather than protecting the prestige of the monarchy, the invoking of the lese majeste law has become a tawdry and naked attempt to use the institution to suppress views that one side or another does not like.

The lese majeste law, as it now stands, is anachronistic. The punishment has steadily climbed throughout the twentieth century; its last infusion made by the coup d'etat government following the bloody suppression of Oct 6, 1976, which increased the punishment to a minimum of three and a maximum of 15 year's imprisonment.

Many such coup orders made by dictators have been brought forward for amendment or revocation. This remnant of dictatorship, unfortunately, has not enjoyed the same fate. Who dares even suggest that it be revised or abolished without fear of being charged with lese majeste? What politician dare enter the legal morass of voting for such a measure?

Adjudication of defamation cases is tricky enough as it is. Defamation cases don't involve ''evidence'' and ''facts'' in a normal way. Separating the line between fact and metaphor, assessing intention and the impact of words _ and assessing criminality from such _ is not something police, prosecutors, or courts are well trained in. In Thailand in the last decade or so, the number of defamation cases has tripled. It has become standard practice for those in power to respond to criticism with a defamation charge.


This article brings up a lot of good points.

The lese majeste law is used primarily to silence and/or punish political dissent that usually has nothing to with the monarchy itself. Thaksin and his cronies were guilty of doing this often.

One argument that I agree with, and both Steckfuss and King Bumibol point out, is that lese majeste actually undermines the monarchy rather than protects it.

The government's response towards YouTube created more problems than it solved, for example. The Thai government actually fomented more nastier attacks against the monarchy out of spite because of its boneheaded actions.

Also, and I have said this before, what happens if the the Crown Prince turns out to be a disaster after the succession? Are people just going to sit back and accept it? It is better to have the discussion about succession and lese majeste now rather than wait for another political disaster and military crackdown.


Anonymous said...

Whilst I fully agree that the lese majeste laws are anachronistic and rightly belong several hundred years in the past, I note with interest that although Thaksin was noted to have been disrespectful to the King, he was off the hook on the basis that 'he had no grudge to bear against the king' and 'he had no malicious intent towards the king'.

I am sure the Swiss guy jailed for 10 years also had no grudge to bear and harboured no malice against the King and feels comforted that Thai justice is so impartial.

Nothing like a good hanging to increase ones poularity among the stupid masses is there? Especially if the hangee is a foreigner. yet another way in which Thais endear themselves to the hand that feeds them.


Anonymous said...

I notice the Swiss guy has now been pardoned and is to be deported, his marriage to a Thai lady nothwithstanding.

He deserves to be condemned for his stupidity but deserved neither incarceration nor deportation by any civilised yardstick.

Now that HM has also decided the lese majeste thing was *way* over the top, by rights there should be some very red-faced obsequious officials quietly looking for something to slash their wrists with. HMK has sent a very clear message to these over-zealous twits.