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The Lèse Majesté Law in Thailand

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  • The Lèse Majesté Law in Thailand

    Lese-majeste Law Explained: How Thailand forbids insult of its Royalty

    Thailand's lese-majeste law, which forbids the insult of the monarchy, is among the strictest in the world.

    It has been increasingly enforced ever since the Thai military took power in 2014 in a coup, and many people have been punished with harsh jail sentences. Critics say the military-backed government uses the law to clamp down on free speech, and the United Nations has repeatedly called on Thailand to amend it. But the government says the law is necessary to protect the monarchy, which is widely revered in Thailand.

    What exactly is this law?

    Article 112 of Thailand's criminal code says anyone who "defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent" will be punished with a jail term between three and 15 years. This law has remained virtually unchanged since the creation of the country's first criminal code in 1908, although the penalty was toughened in 1976. The ruling has also been enshrined in all of Thailand's recent constitutions, which state: "The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action." However, there is no definition of what constitutes an insult to the monarchy, and critics say this gives the authorities leeway to interpret the law in a very broad way. Lese-majeste complaints can be filed by anyone, against anyone, and they must always be formally investigated by the police. Those arrested can be denied bail and some are held for long periods in pre-trial detention, the UN has said. Correspondents say trials are routinely held in closed session, often in military courts where defendants' rights are limited. The jail penalty also applies to each charge of lese-majeste, which means that those charged with multiple offences can face extremely long jail terms. In June 2017, a man was sentenced to 70 years in jail in the heaviest sentence ever handed down, though it was later halved when he confessed.

    Why does Thailand have this law?

    The monarch plays a central in Thai society. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October 2016 after seven decades on the throne, was widely revered and sometimes treated as a god-like figure. He has been succeeded by his son, Maha Vajiralongkorn, who does not enjoy the same level of popularity but is still accorded a sacrosanct status in Thailand. The military, which overthrew the civilian government in May 2014, is staunchly royalist. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has stressed that the lese-majeste law is needed to protect the royals. One of the justifications for a previous military coup in 2006 was that the prime minister then, Thaksin Shinawatra, was undermining the institution of the monarchy - an allegation he vehemently denies.

    How has it been used?

    Though the law has been around for a long while, the number of prosecutions has risen and penalties have grown more severe since the military took power.The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights says the number of people investigated for lese-majeste has risen to more than double the number investigated in the previous 12 years. Only 4% of those charged in 2016 were acquitted. There has been a wide range of offenders, from a grandfather who sent text messages deemed insulting to the queen, to a Swiss national who drunkenly spray-painted posters of the late king. People have also been arrested for lese-majeste over online activity, such as posting images on Facebook of the late King Bhumibol's favourite dog, and clicking the "like" button on Facebook on posts deemed offensive. The social network in fact faced a ban in Thailand in May 2017 for failing to block illegal content including alleged lese-majeste posts, although authorities later backed off.

    Media caption, Activist Sulak Sivaraksa: "If you have enough courage, you should abolish the law" Human rights groups say the government wields the law as a political tool to stifle critical speech, particularly online. The legislation, says Amnesty International, has been used to "silence peaceful dissent and jail prisoners of conscience". In February 2017, the UN's special rapporteur on the promotion of opinion and expression, David Kaye, said "the fact that some forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify restrictions or penalties". He called for a repeal of the law, saying that "lese-majeste provisions have no place in a democratic country".

  • #2
    Pro-monarchy academic says lèse majesté law needs to be more clear

    With Thailand’s draconian lèse majesté law in the spotlight as continuous youth-led protests call on an end to law which carries a lengthy prison sentence for insulting the Thai Monarchy, a well-known academic and supporter of the royal family says the law needs to be amended to make it more clear.
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    Under Section 112 of the Thailand’s Criminal Code, also known as the lèse majesté law those who defame, insult or threaten the royal family face a prison sentence of three to 15 years.

    Over the past year, there have been an uptick of lèse majesté charges related to statement or actions around the youth-led pro-democracy movement where many students and young adults have been raising questions regarding the Monarchy that are considered taboo in Thai society. Recent protests have called on the government to abolish the law.

    Academic Dr. Arnond Sakworawich, who is popular among royalists, says, according to Thai PBS World, that the laws in place are necessary for national security, and are needed to protect the royal family from defamation, but he says some changes need to be made to Section 112.

    “These disputable issues have to be clarified comprehensively, so people will not find loopholes in this law. So, in my opinion, Article 112 should be 3-pages long, detailing interpretation, intention and defining wrongdoing. Defamation and libel should also be separated from malicious threats. It has to be meticulous so that there will not be an issue when interpreting the law…Make it clear, comprehensive and without much need for interpretation.”


    • #3
      Royalists in Thailand target one-man German Activist

      Police are under pressure from royalists to prosecute the German activist who staged a one-man protest against the government of Thailand. The founder and leader of the King Protection Group, Songchai Nienhorm, filed a complaint against the activist, Moritz Pfoh, at Nua Khlong police station in Nua Khlong district of Krabi on Saturday.

      Songchai is urging police to take action against the 35 year old German for inciting civil disobedience and interfering in Thai affairs, following his one-man protest against the government of Thailand in the central province of Rayong. Moritz, also known by his Thai name Fuk Thong, which means pumpkin, was seen walking on an island in the middle of Sukhumvit Road in Tapong sub-district, Mueng district, holding a portrait of caretaker Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan with a red cross on his face.

      The German stated that caretaker PM Prawit and the former PM Prayut Chan-o-cha did not work for the people of Thailand, later telling Thai reporters that “90%” of Thais did not like Gen Prawit and Gen Prayut, but were too afraid to speak out in public against them. Pfoh lives with his Thai wife of eight years near Mae Ramphueng beach in Rayong. His wife revealed her husband is interested in Thai politics and has joined many protests but believes he has the right to express his opinion. She also added that her husband has a pure heart and genuinely wants to help the Thai people.

      Pol Lt Col Pairoj Chanachai, the chief interrogator at the Krabi police station, reported he will forward the complaint to the station chief who will decide whether they will pursue or drop it. The case was registered in the Nua Khlong district of the southern province because Songchai is a resident there.


      • #4
        Thai Parliament authorises lese majeste law changes, including the word ‘monarchy’

        In a move that could see even more people prosecuted for insulting the Thai monarchy, the far-right Thai Pakdee Party has been given the green light to gather signatures for proposed changes to the lese majeste laws.
        The changes would expand the definition of those protected by the law to include former Thai kings of the current Chakri Dynasty, princes and princesses with the rank of Pra Ong Chao or above, and the word “monarchy” itself, reported Prachatai English. The proposal, which has already been authorised by Parliament, is seen as a victory for ultraroyalists, who have long sought to broaden the scope of the law. However, opposition parties have been met with obstacles when trying to debate the law, and political activists continue to protest against it. Warong Dechgitvigrom, the leader of the far-right Thai Pakdee Party, and his associates submitted a request on January 18 which was approved on February 7. In accordance with the current constitution, any petition must contain at least 10,000 signatures before being considered by the House of Representatives.

        Additionally, Warong made a commitment that if his party’s MP candidates are elected to the next parliament, they will modify the Code of Conduct for MPs to prevent them from utilising their authority as a means of obtaining bail for political activists. Parliament has declared that eligible voters and campaigners can request the Secretariat of the House of Representatives to obtain documentation directly from the signatories. However, Warong urged his supporters to submit documents to the Thai Pakdee Party’s office.

        Leader of the far-right Thai Pakdee Party Warong Dechgitvigrom with the official letter from Parliament announcing that his request to collect signatures to propose an amendment to Section 112 of the Criminal Code. Despite Parliament’s support for ultraroyalist attempts to extend Section 112, opposition party MPs frequently encounter obstacles while attempting to discuss the law. Furthermore, a number of political activists have resorted to prolonged hunger strikes and sleep deprivation to demand the right to bail. Amarat Chokepamitkul, a member of the Move Forward Party, expressed her dissatisfaction with Chuan Leekpai, the Speaker of the House, for excluding her party’s motion to limit the scope of Section 112 from the parliamentary agenda.

        On February 1, during her argument that the lèse-majesté law, like any other law, can be discussed, amended or abolished, Chuan switched off her microphone, warning her to be cautious not to violate the monarchy. In mid-February, a royalist activist lodged a complaint against 14 year old Thanalop, who had been repeatedly harassed by the police, leading to her becoming the youngest person in Thailand to be charged with royal defamation. Opposition parties are divided on the issue, with the largest opposition party, Pheu Thai, claiming that the issue is primarily with the implementation of the law and that it could be addressed by executive order if they win a “landslide” victory in the next general election.

        The Move Forward Party has proposed an amendment that would decrease penalties and limit who can file charges. However, these proposals do not meet the activists’ demands for the law’s abolition. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that Thailand has seen 135 royal defamation charges brought by the authorities and 114 brought by ordinary civilians since the use of lèse majesté law was reinstated in the aftermath of pro-democracy protests in 2020.


        • #5
          Thai seller of rubber duck calendar found guilty of royal defamation

          A Thai seller of a rubber ducky calendar has been found guilty of royal defamation. The 26 year old man, “Tonmai,” was arrested on December 31, 2020, and charged with royal defamation. Now, he will serve two years in prison after being found guilty. The Taling Chan Criminal Court ruled that the depiction of the rubber duck was a mockery of Thailand’s Head of State. According to Prachatai English, the rubber ducks first arrived at pro-democracy demonstrations back in 2020.

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          The yellow duck became a symbol of resistance after protesters used the giant inflatables to block water cannon blasts. Protesters nicknamed the yellow ducks “the navy.” The ducks were given pseudo-royal titles by protesters. Police conducted a sting operation, posing as a potential buyer of the calendar on Facebook and asking for it to be delivered by a Grab driver. Officers then tracked the location until they found Tonmai’s residence and requested a search warrant.

          They found the calendar and arrested him because the calendar mocks the Head of State. During the witness examination, Tonmai said the calendar did not mention the Head of State or other royal family members. He also says he did not produce the calendars, but only delivered them. A Thammasat University lecturer stood up for Tonmai by saying that the parody does not constitute an offence under the royal defamation law, since the law specifically refers to threat and defamation.

          An activist also agreed with Tonmai’s defence by saying that the language used in the calendar has also been used in fiction when appropriate for a character’s status. During the cross-examination of a Metropolitan Police officer, he noted that he also thinks that the duck does not represent the Head of State. But, another lecturer at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, testified as an expert witness for the prosecution. He says he sees the duck as representing the Head of State with the calendar meaning to show that the Head of State uses taxpayer money for his sexual gain, is above executive, judicial, and legislative powers and controls the military.

          He commented on March on the calendar, in which he says he saw the duck with a condom on top of its head. He says he took it to mean that the Head of State is obsessed with sex or that he is promoting the use of protection.However, under cross-examination, the lecturer said that he agreed the duck represented many roles and that the image of a duck flying with a plane titled, “Super VIP” could not be taken as a reference to the Head of State.

          Despite the back-and-forth of determining the duck calendar’s meaning and representations, Tonmai was sentenced to three years in prison, but it was reduced to two years after he gave useful testimony. He was later granted bail so he can appeal the case.


          • #6
            Thai appeals court reverses acquittal in Lese Majeste Law case over offensive Facebook comment

            TheThai Appeals Court overturned a previous ruling yesterday, convicting an individual on charges of lese majeste relating to comments deemed offensive towards the monarchy. The defendant, identified only as Wutthipat, was found guilty by the Appeals Court of violating Section 112 of the Criminal Code, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. The judges determined that Wutthipat’s comment on the Royalists Marketplace Facebook page was offensive to a former king and the current monarch. Initially, the court sentenced him to five years in prison, but due to providing a statement beneficial to the proceedings, the sentence was reduced to three years and four months. Wutthipat was subsequently released on bail while awaiting an appeal to the Supreme Court.

            On June 2, 2020, Wutthipat posted a comment online concerning the death of King Ananda Mahidol, or King Rama VIII, which took place in 1946. Siwaphan Manitkul, a private citizen, filed a lese majeste police complaint against Wutthipat on July 19, 2021, accusing him of violating Section 112 and the Computer Crime Act. During witness hearings held on March 1-2 of the previous year, Wutthipat admitted to posting the comment, making reference to King Rama IX, the younger brother of King Rama VIII. However, he argued that lese majeste does not encompass past kings. The Samut Prakan Provincial Court had initially dismissed the case, asserting that although the defendant’s comment referenced King Rama IX with offensive remarks, Section 112 solely protects the current king, queen, heir to the throne, and regent.

            Opponents of the lese majeste law argue that it serves as a powerful tool to stifle dissenting voices in Thailand, as the government can use it to impose severe penalties on critics. The law has faced backlash from human rights groups and international organisations, which assert that it has a negative impact on freedom of expression in Thai society. Despite these criticisms and calls for amendments, the Thai government has consistently defended the lese majeste law, maintaining that it is necessary for the protection of the monarchy. The recent ruling against Wutthipat marks yet another instance in which the law has been applied to penalize those making potentially offensive remarks about past and present members of the Thai monarchy.

            The case of Wutthipat will serve as a relevant example in the ongoing debate over the enforcement of the lese majeste law and its implications for the freedom of expression in Thailand. With appeals pending in the Supreme Court, it remains to be seen whether Wutthipat’s conviction will be upheld and if additional similar cases will arise in the future.


            • #7
              Thai teen faces extended stay in juvenile facility due to royal defamation charge

              A Thai teen is facing an extended stay in a juvenile facility due to a royal defamation charge. The Central Juvenile and Family Court has become involved in the case involving a 15 year old girl who has been held in a juvenile facility for over 40 days. The court said yesterday that the girl’s mother neglected to attend her bail hearing, causing her prolonged detention in the facility. The girl in question, Thanalop Phalanchai, known as “Yok,” has been detained at the Ban Pranee Juvenile Vocational Training Centre for Girls in Nakhon Pathom.

              On March 29. 2023 Yok was brought to court and charged with royal defamation, under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, relating to the lèse majesté law. It was reported that the Phra Ratchawang police arrested her on charges of live-streaming herself spray-painting graffiti on a Temple of the Emerald Buddha wall on March 28, in clear breach of the lèse majesté law. Last year, when she was only 14 years old, Yok faced similar allegations. In addition, she also faces charges of violating Section 368 of the Criminal Code and Section 4 of the Advertisement by Using Sound Amplifiers Control Act 1950.

              The court has stated that after Yok failed to comply with police summon requests on February 2 and February 15, investigators sought an arrest warrant for her. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights informed the police that Yok was unable to attend the meetings as she was preparing for a Mathayom 4 (Grade 10) entrance exam. Police were asked to reschedule the appointment for April 9 at 10am. Nonetheless, Yok was found participating in activism near the United Nations Office on February 18, suggesting that she was attempting to gain more time.

              As a result, the court issued an arrest warrant for Yok under Section 66 of the Criminal Procedure Code and Section 67 of the Juvenile and Family Court and Procedure Act 2010. The court established a legal advisory team for Yok while debating her arrest in court. Unfortunately, neither of her parents were present for the proceedings. A temporary guardian was in attendance, as Yok’s mother was reportedly ill. Given that Yok appeared to live with her mother, the court could not release her. Under Section 73 of the Juvenile and Family Court and Procedure Act, a child cannot be released to someone with whom they don’t reside.

              Individuals connected with the girl could seek her release under Section 106 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Yok’s charges sparked a demonstration at the Samranrat police station on May 10. The station was spray-painted and its doors were smashed by the protesters.


              Youngest ever royal defamation charge: Thai girl, 16, released on bail

              A 16 year old girl from Phitsanulok, Thailand, has been granted bail after being charged with royal defamation, making her the youngest individual ever charged under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR). The alleged offence occurred when the girl, known only as “May”, was 14 years and one month old. Police investigators claim that May used Facebook on November 18, 2020, to post comments considered insulting to His Majesty the King. Naengnoi Asavakittikorn, a member of a cyberbullying support group, discovered the messages and reported them to the police. May was summoned for questioning on June 4, 2021, initially as a witness, as formal charges had not yet been filed.

              Following her questioning, May reported feeling extremely distressed and observed plainclothes police officers near her home and school. She eventually left school and moved to Bangkok. This week, May and her parents travelled from Bangkok to respond to another summons at the Phitsanulok Provincial Police station, where she denied all allegations. Later that day, she appeared in Phitsanulok Juvenile and Family Court, where the police sought her detention but did not object to bail. The court granted bail, and May was released on a surety of 20,000 baht provided by her parents, reported Bangkok Post.

              TLHR states that May is the 19th juvenile accused under Section 112 since 2020. Four of them were under 15 years old when the alleged offences occurred, and 15 were aged between 15 and 18. In a high-profile case, a Bangkok teenager identified as Thanalop or “Yok” recently marked her 50th day in detention at a juvenile facility in Nakhon Pathom. The Central Juvenile and Family Court issued a statement last week addressing criticism of her detention, explaining that the girl’s mother had not appeared for her bail, resulting in her prolonged stay at the Ban Pranee Juvenile Vocational Training Centre for Girls.

              Yok’s charges led to a violent protest at the Samran Rat police station on May 10, where demonstrators vandalised the premises and clashed with police, resulting in nine arrests. Seven men and two women appeared in court on charges including damaging public property and were subsequently released on bail. As of April 30 this year, TLHR data indicates that 1,902 individuals have been prosecuted for political involvement and expression since the Free Youth pro-democracy protests began in July 2020. Of these, at least 242 are facing lese-majeste charges, and 130 have been accused of sedition.

              Teenage lese majeste suspect leaves Thailand detention centre with severe rash

              The second youngest person ever accused of committing lese majeste in Thailand, allegedly violating Section 112 of the Criminal Code, was released on bail yesterday after a 51-day stay inside a detention centre in Nakhon Pathom province. The accused, 15 year old Thanalop “Yok” Phalanchai, left Ban Pranee Juvenile Vocational Training Centre for Girls with a severe rash on her back believed to be caused by unsanitary water at the detention centre, exacerbated by hot weather and mosquito bites. Yok was just 14 years old when she was arrested under suspicion of lese majeste on March 28, the same day a 24 year old man was arrested for spray painting an anti-112 message and anarchy sign on the wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok.

              Pol. Lt. Col. Wanpong Kocharak reported today that Yok started developing the rash shortly after entering Ban Pranee. Initially, nurses at the centre examined the rash and said it looked like a bacterial infection caused by dirty water. She was taken for treatment at Phutthamonthon Hospital in Nakhon Pathom on May 12, reports CH7. The doctor diagnosed the rash as a bacterial skin infection and prescribed seven days of oral antibiotics to clear it up. The doctor also made an appointment for the young lese majeste suspect to see a dermatologist next week on May 25 to provide further treatment if necessary. Yok’s rash was itchy and got worse following the appointment. The nurse reassessed her symptoms on May 17 and advised Yok to go back to the doctor. However, she did not go because she was then released on bail yesterday.

              The detention centre reported that the centre uses groundwater. There is a water quality monitoring system and water is filtered before use, the centre said. The centre assured that both staff and children at the centre use the water and that the centre, “takes care of children’s health in accordance with the measures of the Ministry of Public Health.” Upon her release yesterday, Yok told the media that she had wasted 51 days holed up in the centre and questioned whether she deserved to be incarcerated in subpar conditions. A 16 year old girl named “May” [pseudonym], another lese majeste suspect, was released on bail by a court in Phistanulok province this week.