Who wanted Harry in gaol?-PPT

March 6, 2009

New: The Nation on lèse majesté
Political Prisoners in Thailand: March 1, 2009


Somewhat belatedly, The Nation (1 March 2009: “Harry Nicolaides and lese majeste”) has an editorial on lèse majesté and the case of Harry Nicolaides. The international reporting of Harry’s release saw a little “damage control” taking place. Given the highly political nature of lèse majesté, the Nation editorial contains mixed messages, but deserves a thorough and critical reading.

A week ago, PPT reported that the Bangkok Post had reflected on the political nature of lèse majesté, concluding with the refrain that “insults against the Royal Family should not be tolerated, and it should be left to His Majesty to decide if the guilty parties should be pardoned.”

In a similar vein, the Nation’s editors consider that Nicolaides’ almost 6 months incarceration and deportation following a pardon from the king is a “reaffirmation of royal benevolence.” At the same time, it is acknowledged that the “draconian enforcement of the law to safeguard reverence for the monarchy” and that the issue is being given too much attention. The editorial asks if the “zealous attempt to uphold the monarchy has, in fact, backfired to harm the revered institution.”

But then the argument falls into the trap of “blaming foreigners” for negative attention to this law. Most outrageously, the editors of the Nation state: “And when foreigners became involved, including well-connected half-Thai half-British activist Giles Ungpakorn, there was no stopping a global campaign…”. This claim, identifying Giles by race and making him “foreign” is on a par with the most reprehensible claims of Thailand’s right-wing and its most rabid royalists, as PPT has previously reported here, here and here.

Writing of the Nicolaides case, the Nation states this was an “unintentional crime” that shows the “poor judgement [involved in] blindly invoking lese majeste before weighing the benefits against the drawbacks” and sending the wrong signal to the international community. Of course, there were also significant domestic political messages involved when a foreign writer is kept in jail for so long. Who wanted Harry kept in jail and why?

Claiming that the charge for offending the monarchy has been “rarely invoked,” the editors are aware that the current “surge of accusations of lese majeste, and things may get harder and more complicated.” And it is added that foreigners, “less familiar with Thai culture and tradition will always ask questions about the monarch’s compassion and the existence of the law.” The Nation is playing down the fact that it is mostly Thais who suffer under this law.

For statistics on the use of the law, see “Ramification and Re-Sacralization of the Lèse Majesté Law in Thailand” by Somchai Preechasilpakul and David Streckfuss, where data are provided for the period 1947-2005. Of course, the use of the law has far-reaching implications beyond just the cases brought to the police and courts.

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