Comments on lese majeste-Bangkok Pundit

May 23, 2009

Reply to Bowornsak Uwanno

Bangkok Pundit: May 22, 2009

Last month, Bowornsak Uwanno had a 3 part article defending lese majeste law in the Bangkok Post (1, 2, 3) – the Thai language version was in Matichon and dutifully reprinted by the men in green. BP had planned a long reply, but well then a day or so later the red shirts and Songkran happened and well plans of a critique vanished. Would suggest reading Political Prisoners in Thailand posts (here and here) on Bowornsak’s articles.

Aside from that, have a few points from at that time. Bowornsak states:

The author does not have the exact statistics of lese majeste cases. But according to an interview given by the chief of the Police Central Investigation Bureau, there are currently 32 cases pending with the police. Four of these are being prosecuted while the remaining 28 are being investigated.

Comparing this number with statistics from Norway on Crime against the Constitution and the Head of State between 1993 and 2007, in which there were seven such cases in 2007 (including cases which are not against the Head of State), we see that the number of lese majeste cases in Thailand is much higher.

BP: First, it is clear from this upload (PDF) at KPI he got his figures from Statistics Norway. The problem is claims there were 7, but the website states there was only 1. Second, and more importantly, he is referring to the section heading “Crime against the Constitution and the Head of State” also includes crimes of treason, being a member of a terrorist organisation, and committing terrorist acts. It is highly misleading to compare the number of lese majeste investigations to the total number of national security investigations in Norway under sections 98-104 of the Norwegian Penal Code.

Another point:

Nevertheless, only a few lese majeste cases have appeared before the Supreme Court. Over the past 100 years since the promulgation of the Criminal Law 1908 through to the enforcement of the present Criminal Code, there have been only four such cases before the Supreme Court, namely Cases No. 1081/2482, 861/2521, 1294/2521 and 2354/2531. Another Supreme Court case – Case No. 3304/2532 – was not a criminal case but involved the dissolution of a foundation due to lese majeste.

BP: Most cases don’t get to the Supreme Court. Why doesn’t he look at the cases which have gone to the Criminal Court and the standard they set? He doesn’t refer to any of the nonsensical cases which have come before the Court and which people have been found guilty – see some of the examples here. For more information on the current application of the law and court cases, see this paper by Somchai Preechasilpakul and David Streckfuss entitled “Ramification and Re-Sacralization of the Lese Majesty Law in Thailand” – available here.

BP ran out of time here, but the Dutch Ambassador in his personal capacity had an op-ed in yesterday’s Bangkok Post responding to Borwonrsak and states:

I note the author’s omission of two important facts in describing the situation in Europe.

The first is the actual application of the lese majeste laws and the nature of the court decisions based on them. The second is that all European monarchies referred to in his series are party to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“ECHR”). The impact of ECHR case law on the legal systems of the contracting parties should not be underestimated.

European domestic case law

While Dr Borwornsak provides an insightful overview on a number of European monarchies and their laws on lese majeste, it is important to realise that in most of the countries mentioned, these laws are hardly ever applied and if they are, the punishment is usually mild.

An examination of Dutch case law, for instance, reveals that there are few convictions and that in most cases a simple fine is imposed. In the United Kingdom the law has fallen into disuse and there are no examples of recent cases in Denmark and Norway.

When a Spanish satirical magazine was convicted to pay a fine of 3,000 euros for violation of Spain’s lese majeste laws in 2007, members of the European Parliament called for decriminalisation of lese majeste in Europe.

BP: He also looks at European jurisprudence in his second point. Can anyone find a single person who has been jailed in Europe in the last 30 years (or last 50 years) for a lese majeste offence?

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