FACTorial: Royal overkill for third-party “criminals”

April 4, 2012

It has long been determined in Thai legal precedent that the repetition of lèse majesté is itself lèse majesté. That precedent covers politicians, media, even judges, prosecutors and lawyers.

As a result, lèse majesté trials are often conducted in camera. If your Latin is rusty, that means secret trials, giving rise to questions of procedure and fairness unbecoming of democracy.

Thai bureaucrats, police, prosecutors and courts have most recently begun an attempt to expand the definition of criminal liability for lèse majesté to include third parties who did not actually repeat the alleged offences.

Such expansion of the law, whether the Criminal Code’s Articles 112 and 116 or the Computer Crimes Act 2007, were never envisioned by the Parliamentarians who drafted and passed the laws. Nor did police or govt seek a legal decision from the Council of State before embarking on this disastrous course.

Third-party criminal liability for lèse majesté changes everything. Anyone can now be guilty of what govt has called a breach of national security for comments made anonymously or pseudonymously to one’s website or weblog. Anyone can now be guilty if one hyperlinks to websites where any such illegal or even inappropriate content exists, including comments to that remote website.

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) believes that such legal actions against third parties are both illegal and unConstitutional. Making third parties lèse majesté criminals violates numerous legal provisions guaranteeing freedom of expression, a free media and freedom of association, founded on the Thai Constitution 1997 and 2007 and in international treaty obligations to which Thailand is signatory.

In most cases, lèse majesté prisoners are denied bail which prevents mounting an adequate defence. Lèse majesté charges are legally predicated on defamation, insults or threats to the monarchy. Any private individual may so accuse another.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn is the webmaster of independent news portal Prachatai. Prachatai hosts public web discussion fora and open comments to its news articles to which any user may contribute pseudonymously.

Chiranuch has always cooperated fully when ICT ministry officials made her aware of posted content they considered inappropriate. Often, she would remove such content at their suggestion.

However, Chiranuch is the lone moderator at Prachatai and even webmasters sleep sometimes or take a vacation. MICT officials did not warn Chiranuch of ten offending comments from April to August 2008 but they certainly warned police.

Chiranuch was first accused of lèse majesté over these comments by a minor Royal himself, Chiang Mai governor Mom Luanf Panadda Disakul.

Chiranuch was arrested at her Prachatai office in March 2009 long after the ten comments had been noticed and removed.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn was charged with ten counts of lèse majesté under the military coup’s Computer Crimes Act and is facing 20 years in prison for this case.

Chiranuch was again arrested in September 2010 as she was returning from Google’s Internet at Liberty conference in Europe.

This time, she was charged with lèse majesté and “disrupting the peace” under Thailand’s Criminal Code as well as the computer law. Her accuser is a provincial Thai who in 2008 objected to five comments on Prachatai to an interview with Chotisak Onsoong. Chotisak is an anticoup activist who refused to stand in the cinema for the Royal Anthem which precedes each showing and was charged with lèse majesté.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn faces 30 years in prison for these charges, a grand total of 50 years in prison. For being a journalist.

Monarchy has always been imbued with the sense of Divine Right, that is, monarchs rule by the Will of God. This is certainly the conception behind Thailand’s thammaraja but it is also self-evident in such modern monarchies as that of Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands.

Modern monarchies such as those in Denmark, Holland and Spain also prosecute their subjects for lèse majesté occasionally but with an enormous difference to Thailand’s crackdown. Lèse majesté must be clear and apparent to anyone. In Thailand, we mostly have to guess if the Royals have really been insulted.

In Thailand, Royalist promotion of the monarchy has managed to create a panopticon in which any citizen is suspected of disloyalty until proven otherwise. One’s reputation for loyalty to the Crown is surprisingly fragile here. If lèse majesté is considered a national security offence, those who violate it are traitors to the state.

French King Louis XIV said famously, “l’Etat, c’est moi” (The state, it is me.”) King Bhumibol of Thailand is officially characterised as Head of State. Although howls of protest may be heard here that “the King is above politics”, it is both ultimate naïveté and folly to genuinely believe the King is not the crucial actor in the Thai political landscape as well as the protector and enabler of an all-powerful military.

If Thailand wishes to become a democracy, we must be able to speak our minds openly without fear or favour. Love in every other human instance must be earned and continue to be earned. Our love for our King must be voluntary and those who do not must not be censured.

 

 

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