Open hearts needed in royalty debate-Bangkok Post

May 15, 2012

Sanitsuda Ekachai

Bangkok Post: May 10, 2012

http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/292591/open-heartsneeded-in-royalty-debate

 

After eight failed attempts to obtain bail on lese majeste charges, 62-year-old Ampon Tangnoppakul, or Ah Kong, finally won his freedom when he was no longer breathing, his body stiff and cold.

Ah Kong, meaning grandpa, had cancer and could not possibly jump bail because he was too sick, too poor, and too attached to his grandchildren.

He also needed to see his doctor regularly because of his illness. Yet the court repeatedly turned down his bail requests, arguing the severity of the lese majeste charge might make him jump bail, and that his illness was not an issue because he could get medical care at the prison hospital.

Ah Kong died in prison on Tuesday morning after suffering intense stomach pain and a lack of medical care over the weekend. “Let’s go home,” said his grief-stricken wife Rosmalin in a soft, broken voice as she was holding an incense stick up in the air, speaking to her husband’s spirit in a ceremony for the dead at the prison. “They have now released you.”

I watched the video clip of Rosmalin at the prison on the Prachatai website (http://www.prachatai.com/journal/2012/05/40408). When she put a handkerchief over her mouth to stifle a sob, I could not hold back my tears. The sadness is not only for Ah Kong’s family nor the injustice which poor people routinely suffer in the judicial system, but also for my country, for allowing deep reverence for the monarchy to grow into blind hatred and indiscriminate political persecution.

Some fail to realise that misguided patriotism is severely hurting the royal institution and tearing the country apart.

If we really love our King, we must stop doing this.

Also known as Uncle SMS, Ah Kong’s lese majeste charges involved four SMS messages deemed defamatory to Their Majesties the King and Queen.

Despite his denial and public doubts over an old man’s ability to navigate difficult text message buttons on the phone, the court believed he was guilty and sentenced him to 20 years in jail.

His spirit crushed by repeated bail refusals and no prospect of freedom due to the atrociously lengthy court procedures, he eventually decided to give up the legal fight, and opted to seek a royal pardon instead. He had high hopes of reuniting with his family until the fatal stomach pain struck.

“I understand Thais love the King and want to protect him,” said one top business executive from the United States. But these lese majeste cases end up putting the person you love in a negative light internationally. They make people elsewhere think that there really is something wrong to hide.”

Why can’t we see this?

Also, why can’t we see that securing bail is a legal right when the grounds for bail requests are justifiable?

With Ah Kong’s illness and inability to flee, the court’s decision to deny him bail came across as heartless.

Unfortunately, the decision did not only backfire against the judiciary, it also provided ammunition for a new round of unfair attacks on the monarchy.

People in the judiciary are among the best and brightest. Why can’t they understand this? Ah Kong’s death has re-ignited activists’ calls for defendants to secure bail promptly in lese majeste cases. They also want the lese majeste law amended to prevent abuse and to make the punishment proportionate to the offence.

Yes, our law needs to be more in line with human rights. But what we probably need more is our hearts to be open and more tolerant to differences.

A better law still won’t work if we regard even a slightly critical view of the royal institution as blasphemy. Or if we still believe we can send any violators to hell for insulting our faith.

Why turn our love and reverence for an extraordinary monarch into a form of religious extremism with all its destructive powers? Yes, lies and hate speech from many anti-royalists are maddening. But they cannot hurt the monarchy.

Immature royalism, however, is gravely undermining the core of royal authority, which is unconditional compassion and forgiveness. If the ultra-royalists do not realise this, they have no one but themselves to blame for the ongoing political mess.

 

Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor, Bangkok Post.

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