FACTorial: How defamation and lèse majesté threats chill discussion

March 31, 2010

FACTorial: How lèse majesté and defamation laws are used against us.

I have been doing a great deal of thinking about our responsibility regarding unjust laws and their application.

I know that many netizens diverge with FACT when talking about the lèse majesté and zero censorship. Regardless of personal opinions about the monarchy, many netizens see an opposition to lèse majesté law as an unwinnable battle and one that pits activists against a vast number of Thais.

I personally do not oppose lèse majesté law because I am some sort of Republican who wishes to end monarchy in Thailand. I only see lèse majesté used as a blunt instrument of repression of broader issues of freedom of expression, particularly in its unfair applications against common citizens.

It is inarguable that lèse majesté law is used unfairly by Thai bureaucrats. It’s one of those knee-jerk issues—if you’re against lèse majesté law, you must be against the king. This, Netizens, is the purest sort of Orwellian smoke-and-mirrors.

Recently, Frank G. Anderson, long-time Thai resident, former US Peace Corps Thailand volunteer,  FACT signer and UPI-Asia columnist, was separately charged with criminal defamation by Akbar Khan and his Thai police buddy, Lt.Col. Wattanasak Mungkitkarndee. Each charge carries a penalty of two years in gaol. If one is a foreigner, even one with Thai citizenship or permanent residence, such a conviction also carries deportation and being blacklisted as persona non grata in Thailand.

Frank was charged by the pair because of his online commentary about Khan’s and Wattanasak’s spurious lèse majesté charges against foreign journalists in Thailand, including the BBC stringer, Jonathan Head, and the entire executive board of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. This particular FCCT event also saw Red-shirt leader and Thaksin supporter, Jakrapob Penkair, charged with lèse majesté for comments made where Jakrapob was a panelist and Head the moderator.

First of all, free speech is being suppressed using lèse majesté law to punish those who organised or spoke at the FCCT event. Secondly, criminal defamation law is being used to suppress free expression consisting of legitimate critical commentary regarding other defamation charges, including lèse majesté. The intent of such abuse of the criminal defamation law is to stifle speech by any others who might be called by conscience to voice an opinion on any issue.

Netizens, the result is the same—Thailand means no free speech.

A major part of the lèse majesté and defamation problem is the mechanism of the law. Any citizen, or bureaucrat or policeman may swear charges of lèse majesté or criminal defamation against anyone. The police are required to investigate the validity of such charges but, even if the police find the charges totally without merit, the accusing citizen (or bureaucrat or policeman) may continue the criminal case acting as prosecutor.

Frank Anderson is the first so charged to fight back. He accuses Khan and Wattanasak with supporting their charges through false information and evidence. Khan and Wattanasak’s charges are purely malicious and looking for self-importance. Repression of freedom of expression ultimately terrorises all of us.

Frank is not the only person so charged. Many Thais feel so embarrassed at their charges (Thai govt estimates roughly 200 criminal cases in process over lèse majesté and defamation) that they not only don’t fight, they plead guilty in order to get a 50% reduction on what they see as their inevitable conviction.

Criminal defamation laws are being used indiscriminately in Thailand.

Another spurious case sees American investor Dov Plitman charged by Bangkok luxury condo developer Le Raffiné with two counts of criminal defamation for demanding his contractual rights as a buyer. Thai police and courts have refused this case several times already but Le Raffiné acts as their own prosecutor. In other words, the criminally rich abuse Thai law to work for them. And ordinary people bear the legal consequences.

Frank’s case clearly involves the Internet. He was charged on the basis of his commentary online. However, Dov’s case is equally clear—the ads which Raffiné call defamation appeared in our public media, both the Bangkok Post and The Nation.

I believe in purity. However govt chooses to work against our free expression, it is our duty to fight them. It only takes one person with courage and many more will follow. The government advisory committee on lèse majesté merely perpetuates an unjust law.

Netizens must make a stand on these vital issues. Reforming the laws is just putting a band-aid on gangrene. We are all bound by conscience to demand the complete repeal of such unjust laws supported by illegitimate government, whether military or laissez faire.

CJ Hinke

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)

March 25, 2010


One Response to “FACTorial: How defamation and lèse majesté threats chill discussion”

  1. […] example, American investor Dov Plitman, was charged by a Bangkok luxury condo developer with two counts of criminal defamation after going […]

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