The Thai dictatorship is once again turning to the use of the draconian and backward lèse majesté law. The dinosaurs in uniform have ordered that a dozen leaders of the youth-led pro-democracy movement be issued with summonses by the police on charges of lèse majesté.
For a couple of years the scandal around this law, and how it brought the Thai monarchy into disrepute in the eyes of many throughout the world, meant that the junta temporarily stopped using the law. Instead they persecuted activists and dissidents with other equally brutal laws, such as the computer crimes law. But now they have returned to using lèse majesté.
The reason for this is that they can see that the tide has turned as a result of the youth-led protests and people are openly criticising Wachiralongkorn. The dim-witted and vicious king hasn’t exactly helped build his popularity by spending his time in Germany with his harem, insisting on changing the constitution in order to make a grab for all of the wealth associated with the monarchy to be placed under his personal control. In the past there was a separation between his personal wealth and the Crown Property Bureau which was owned by the state. At the moment he is on a “charm offensive”, touring various sites in Bangkok and the provinces to meet the people. But in many ways this has just made things worse since he is only welcomed by ageing royalist fanatics and when interviewed by a British Channel 4 journalist, Wachiralongkorn struggled to say a coherent sentence. In addition to this, soldiers have been dressing up as “yellow shirts” to welcome Wachiralongkorn and also use violence against pro-democracy protests.
Lèse majesté in Thailand is used to support military coups and dictatorships. The monarchy is constantly used by authoritarian powers in Thailand to justify their actions and the monarchy has never spoken out against injustice and the cold-blooded killing of civilians. In the past many people, myself included, have been charged under this outdated authoritarian law. One person was charged with lèse majesté for distributing CDs of an Australian Broadcasting Corporation documentary. This documentary showed the severely sexist and abusive behaviour of the Thai Crown Prince. The same person was also charged with distributing a Wikileaks cable which exposed the fact that at least one member of the Privy Council thought that it would be “better” if the Prince Wachiralongkorn died so as to avoid him becoming king. This was while Pumipon was still alive.
The junta are gambling on the possibility that the youth-led movement will lose momentum and that it will be unable to defend its leaders. Both the main opposition Move Forward and Pua Thai Parties have so far refused to criticise the lèse majesté law or to back demands for serious reform of the monarchy. It is vital that the leaders of the pro-democracy movement are not left isolated. Strike action by Thai workers would strengthen their position. International solidarity would also be a boost to morale.
In a genuine democracy, it cannot be a crime to seek to bring the monarchy to account for its behaviour. This is what the protest movement is demanding.
The lèse majesté law cannot be reformed into a democratic law any more than a military dictatorship can be reformed or amended into a “democratic government”. The lèse majesté law is fundamentally against the freedom of expression and democracy. No one should face charges, be punished or be in jail for speaking their mind about Thai political institutions. This is the line that must be drawn in the sand to defend freedom of speech and build democracy in Thailand. It means that lèse majesté must be abolished.
Giles Ji Ungpakorn