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Thailand: “Reform the World’s Harshest Lèse Majesté Law”

Several groups, scholars, and activists in Thailand are demanding the amendment of Article 112 of the country’s Criminal Code or the lese majeste law, which forbids anyone from insulting the King and members of the Royal Family. Many people are alarmed that lese majeste cases have increased in the past few years; from 33 cases in 2005 it went up to 478 reported cases in 2010.

Thailand’s lese majeste is described by many commentators as the worlds’s ‘harshest’ since the law’s minimum mandatory sentence is already three years long while the maximum sentence is 15 years for a single count. Enacted into law in 1908, Thailand’s lese majeste has been amended several times. The 1976 amendment was the most recent with increased penalty of up to 15 years jail.

Amend Article 112. Photo from Asian Correspondent

Amend Article 112. Photo from Asian Correspondent

The Campaign Committee to Amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code or CCAA 112 is a broad network which is spearheading the initiative to reform the law. Meanwhile, Nitirat (Enlightened Jurists) is a group of seven Thammasat University law lecturers who drafted a set of proposed amendments to the Constitution, including amendments to the controversial lèse majesté.

Nitirat explains the need to reform Article 112:

The existing law concerning defamation of, insults to and threats to the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, and the Regent is inappropriate both in the structure of its sections, the range of penalties, and its enforcement. In addition, the section provides no exemption for criticism, the expression of opinion or the expression of statements that are made in good faith and in order to uphold the Constitution and democratic system of government. It is at present clear that the law opens a channel for individuals to use it for political purposes or to use it in bad faith in a manner inconsistent with the intent of the law.

A summary of Nitirat’s proposed Constitutional amendments:

Academics from many countries have signed a letter addressed to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra supporting the proposal to amend Article 112:

Article 112 has become a powerful tool to silence political dissent, and in particular, any dissent interpreted as disloyalty to the institution of the monarchy. There is no political space in present-day Thailand to publicly discuss the role and future of the monarchy under democracy, which is a crucial subject for the country at the moment.

When citizens cannot be certain if, or when, a knock at the door is going to come for a message they have written, an article they have posted online or another action deemed to be disloyal, action and thought are constricted. As long as this occurs, the full exercise of human rights cannot occur in Thailand.

Nitarat’s activities were affected when Thammasat University officials banned the use of the campus for activities related to lèse majesté. Human rights organizations and free speech advocates appealed this decision:

We demand that the administration of the university review its order to prevent the Nitirat Group’s activities from taking place in the university’s premises as long as the activities are carried out peacefully and in compliance with human rights principle.

Kaewmala is worried that those who support Nitarat are demonized by people who called themselves ‘Thais with Patriotic Heart‘:

Why did these “Thais with Patriotic Heart” burn Worachet’s effigy? How much do they know about Nitirat and their proposals? We don’t know for sure. Perhaps even they themselves don’t know for sure.

One placard in the picture reads: “Execution ONLY for whoever insults the monarchy!”

The campaign to amend the lese majeste has reached the provinces. The Isaan Record attended a forum in Khon Kaen:

Sunday’s motley crew of attendees cut across social, if not political boundaries. There were out-and-proud Red Shirts (“I came because I’m a Red Shirt… everyone should be able to critique [the king] just like they can critique a movie star.”), adamantly color-less university technicians (“The movement to correct the constitution is different from the Red Shirt movement.”), closeted Marxists, Yingluck apologists (“In truth Yingluck wants to change the law, but there are many factions in Thailand and she doesn’t want to fight with all these groups.”)

Politicians belonging to the administration and opposition parties are not in favor of amending the particular law. Perhaps they don’t want to be perceived of being impolite to the King, who remains the most popular and influential political icon in the country.

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