Tag Archives: Lèse Majesté

A flash of lightning at midnight

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The mass protest against the dictatorship that erupted at the funeral of Apiwan Wiriyachai, when hundreds raised the three finger salute, was like a flash of lightning at midnight. It must have cause Prayut and his fellow junta gangsters much unease, but it must have also upset Yingluk and Taksin.

At first, when hundreds of pro-democracy redshirts flocked to the airport to receive Apiwan’s body, which was flown in from the Philippines, where he had been forced into exile, this was symbolic of people who wished to honour a leader who represented democracy and elections at a time when Thailand is under the blanket of dictatorship. Apiwan was not a particularly prominent redshirt leader, but his death became a symbol. Moreover, he had been charged with lèse majesté, the favourite repressive tool of all those who wish to destroy democracy.

When the crowd at the funeral chanted encouragement to Yingluk when she appeared, it was a crowd that was within the boundaries of supporting the Pua Thai Party and Taksin, and we cannot deny this. But to support a leader who was charged with lèse majesté goes a bit further because Taksin, Yingluk and Pua Thai do not want to talk about lèse majesté, never mind calling for its abolition.

However when the crowd erupted with anger into making the three finger anti-dictatorship salute, they were clearly acting independently of Pua Thai or the redshirt UDD leadership which have constantly tried to stop any anti-junta protests.

This “flash of lightning at midnight” is a clear reminder to all that underneath the “calm” appearance of Thai society after the coup, millions are extremely angry and wish to see the end of the dictatorship. Given organisation and leadership, this mass power can be mobilised. But it will take time and we will not automatically see more lightning until the next opportunity arises.

International Organisations fail on Lèse-Majesté

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Despite the fact that Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has stated that “the threat of the use of the lèse majesté laws adds to the chilling effects on freedom of expression observed in Thailand after the coup”, the track record of international organisations and Western governments in supporting Thai political prisoners jailed under this draconian law is exceedingly poor.

For years Amnesty International failed to campaign on the issue, claiming that it preferred to carry out “quiet lobbying” of the Thai government. Locally based AI officials even supported the use of the law. Eventually AI took up the case of Somyot Pruksakasemsuk. But the AI campaign has been weak and half-hearted.

Western governments have shown a token interest over the oppressive effects of lèse majesté. The U.S. government sent an embassy official as an observer to some seminars on the subject which I helped to organise before I was forced to leave Thailand because of this law. But the U.S. government has done nothing of any significance since. The Canadian ambassador to Thailand informed me that his government was “concerned” about lèse majesté and was involved in “quiet lobbying”. But nothing positive has resulted.

Western governments, including E.U. governments, could make public statements opposing lèse majesté and they could ask to send embassy observers to lèse majesté trials. That kind of pressure helped to release student political prisoners after the 6th October 1976 blood bath in Bangkok.

I do not have utopian illusions in the commitment of Western governments to freedom and democracy, but citizens of those governments could put pressure on politicians to raise the issue.

Some academics who are involved in Thai Studies have published good public statements against lèse majesté, but things need to be taken further. Lèse majesté is also an infringement of academic freedom and Thai academics and students have fallen foul of the law. It is time for a boycott of official Thai academic institutions and conferences which are linked to the Thai government. So far nothing has happened.

Lèse majesté is not just about censorship, violence and intimidation by the state. The widespread use of the law and the manic promotion of the monarchy by the military and others is a green light for royalist thugs and other non-state actors to commit violence or make threats against citizens. It applies to all those who are merely accused of lèse majesté by anyone, whether or not they are actually charged or found guilty. This is clear in the cases of academics Somsak Jeamteerasakul and Worajet Pakeerat.

Given that the military junta is increasing its use of lèse majesté, with those facing trials automatically being refused bail, and given that people like Somyot and Da Torpedo have been locked away under appallingly stiff sentences, it is a matter of urgency that there are more campaigns for the abolition of lèse majesté.

In Thailand, while state officials who shoot down unarmed demonstrators and destroy democracy go free, people who merely express opposition to the status quo, in a totally non-violent manner, are deemed to be “serious criminals”.

The dirty lèse-majesté law: a convenient tool for the junta

Numnual Yapparat & Giles Ji Ungpakorn

It is blatantly clear that lèse-majesté is a convenient club to beat those who disagree with the junta. The most recent victims of lèse-majesté are students who played in a political drama at the Thammasart University in 2013. The drama was part of the memorial event which took place to pay respects to the student movement in 1973 which spearheaded the overthrow of the military junta back then.



Those arrested are Mr Butiwat Sarai-yam and Ms Porntip Munkong (“Golf”). It is intolerable in all aspects that the students were arrested because of their activities in a play on a university campus. We need collective action to fight against this brutality by the junta.

What can be done from outside Thailand? All Thai Studies academics who believe in free speech and democracy need to wake up and campaign against the junta’s use of lèse-majesté by writing protest letters to Thammasart University, the Thai authorities and local newspapers. Ask the Rector of Thammasart University, who is collaborating with the junta, whether he believes in academic freedom. This problem should be robustly discussed in international academic conferences which have Thai participation. In doing so, at least academics who support the junta can be exposed so that they have no place to stand in international stages. A boycott of any collaboration with Thai universities should be considered.

It is always better to write as a group of people rather than as a single individual.

If you are a union activist you can also write an open letter to raise your concerns and invite your colleagues to sign.

If you are involved with a human rights organisation, make sure that they take up this issue and campaign for the release of all those now in jail.

So many political prisoners are still in jail and they need our help.

The UDD Red Shirts leadership isn’t up to the job of defending democracy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

One thing that the Thai political crisis over the last 8 years has proved is that being in government does not mean controlling the state. Ever since the time of Marx and Engels, Marxists have argued that the state is made up of much more than the government. There are the “bodies of armed men”, courts, prisons, top civil servants and elite CEOs of big business. The state is the unofficial, unacknowledged, committee for managing the affairs of the entire capitalist ruling class. Its pretence at being neutral and law-abiding is a mechanism to win legitimacy among the population. There will be differences of opinion within the state. But its overall aim is to rule over, control and oppress other classes. In Thailand its function is to rule over ordinary working people and farmers who make up the majority of the population. It has not yet faced the power of the organised working class like in Europe or Egypt. The Thai state has yet to make serious concessions to democracy.

Over the last 8 years of the Thai crisis the Thai state has set its face against democracy and the idea of a free universal franchise. We have had one coup d’état by the army and 3 judicial coups. This repression of democracy is backed up by armed Democrat Party thugs on the streets who act with impunity. It is backed up by military appointed so-called “independent bodies”, acting under a military drafted constitution. It is supported by middle-class academics and NGO leaders. They also all claim to be “protecting the monarchy”, although the draconian lèse-majesté law prevents people from questioning or testing this.

It is obvious that to achieve freedom and democracy we shall have to pull down all the old structures of the Thai state.

But Taksin, Yingluk and Pua Thai have no intention of doing this. Their aim is to re-join the elite club who now run the state. They are not pro-democracy out of principle, merely out of convenience. The UDD Red Shirt leadership is wedded to Pua Thai. It is incapable of leading the necessary fight.

Any defence of democracy must come from the Red Shirt movement. There is no other movement which is remotely interested in doing this and no other group which has the potential capabilities. The Red Shirts are the largest pro-democracy social movement which has ever existed in Thailand. The majority still support Taksin, but at the same time wish to fight for democracy as a matter of principle and personal interest. They have a contradictory relationship with Taksin and Pua Thai.

The weakness of the Red Shirt movement comes in two forms: political leadership and power. What is needed is new leadership which is independent of Pua Thai and Taksin, with more self -organisation. There is an urgent need to assess the required task of overthrowing the old state structures and how this can be done. Power needs to come from being more closely allied to the organised working class, especially the private sector unions. Power also comes from the mass movement being made up of farmers throughout the country. Until this happens the Red Shirts will not be able to rebuild democracy and expand the democratic space.

Saying that lèse majesté “is used in the wrong way” Is like saying that….. “Lethal injection is the wrong way to carry out capital punishment”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn


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 military dictatorship”. The lèse majesté law is fundamentally against the freedom of expression and democracy. It cannot be reformed. It has to be abolished.

Those who are for maintaining lèse majesté in Thailand in an amended form can only hold up the limp excuse that “Thailand is different”. But Thailand is unfortunately not unique. Brutal dictatorships exist all over the world. Just like in Thailand, regimes in Syria, Egypt and Yemen, gun down pro-democracy demonstrators in the streets. In Singapore writers are imprisoned for criticising the establishment. In Burma, North Korea or China, those who advocate democracy are put in prison. There is not even anything unique about the Thai establishment claiming “Thai uniqueness” in justifying the repression. All dictatorships do the same.

Another excuse of those who advocate reforming or amending lèse majesté is that they believe that they stand a better chance of convincing the corrupt and brutal generals, politicians and top civil servants to accept some minor changes if they don’t “go too far”. But that is like asking a gang of robbers not to “rob too much”. It is still robbery. In this case the robbery of Democracy and Human Rights.

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.

Release Somyot! Scrap lèse majesté!

Giles Ji Ungpakorn


     Somyot Pruksakasemsuk is a journalist in prison. He is a prisoner of conscience. He was convicted of publishing two articles in an anti-establishment magazine that made negative references to the crown. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and has been in prison since his initial arrest on 30th April 2011. He has always been denied bail.

There are several political prisoners sentenced to jail under “lèse majesté”.  The only way to get released is to admit guilt. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk has refused to admit guilt. He has done nothing wrong. He tells stories about the conditions in jail. The prisoners have to wear chains on both legs which weigh 5 kg. The prisoners have to clean the chains regularly otherwise they go rusty and people’s legs become infected. According to Somyot, standard practices in jail are mainly designed to reduce the humanity of prisoners. “If you are in jail you are treated like an animal”.

Another lèse majesté prisoner, Da Torpedo, has been in jail longer than Somyot. She has been denied proper medical treatment and has also been physically attacked in prison.

The lèse majesté law in Thailand represents a gross attack on the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and academic freedom. It is a fundamental attack on democracy carried out by the military, royalist judges and bureaucrats, and all the political elites, including Taksin and Pua Thai. Lèse majesté prisoners are tried in secret courts and denied bail. The royalist judges claim that the offense is “too serious” and “a threat to national security”. Thai dictatorships have long used the excuse that their opponents were seeking to “overthrow the monarchy” in order to kill unarmed demonstrators or throw people into jail. Jail terms for lèse majesté are draconian. Meanwhile armed anti-democracy thugs and state killers enjoy freedom of action and impunity.

The lèse majesté law in Thailand is an authoritarian law which has been designed primarily to protect the interests of the un-elected elites, especially the military. It is used hand in hand with the computer crimes law and the contempt of court law to stifle full debate and accountability in society. Lèse majesté and the computer crimes laws have resulted in many outspoken critics going to prison or leaving the country and they have also resulted in the systematic censorship of books and the internet. Government departments, both civilian and military, have been set up to spy on citizens who use the internet, and those involved with radio and television, with a view to prosecuting citizens under the lèse majesté law. People have also been encouraged to spy on others and report them to the authorities.     While the National Human Rights Commission and the NGOs remain silent on lèse majesté, the only systematic opposition comes from a small section of the pro-democracy movement.

The truly repressive nature of lèse majesté can be highlighted by the fact that some Thai citizens are too afraid to refuse to stand up at the cinema when the king’s anthem is played. It is an image that would not look out of place in Nazi Germany or North Korea.

They burn witches in Bangkok

Numnual  Yapparat

Major general Rientong Nan-nah, self-appointed Witch-Finder-General and the director of Mongkutwattana General Hospital, has announced that he setting up the “Rubbish collection organisation” to root out all those who dare to criticise the monarchy. He set up a Facebook page to recruit people to be assistant witch-hunters. Some of their members posted an horrific picture from the violence against students on the 6th of October 1976, saying that they needed to finish the job. These people want to create a climate of fear to intimidate the opposition.

The Witch-Finder-General encourages the yellow shirts to bully the red shirts by offering rewards for any “witches” who are exposed. To get the rewards, the yellow shirts have to collect evidence such as messages posted on Facebook. Then they need to find out where the “witches” live and work and then they will circulate information among their network. They will report people to the police. Their behaviour is fascist witch-hunting, pure and simple.

The mainstream media regard the Rubbish Collection Organisation as a harmless political faction. Pua Thai stays silent as usual.

The practical effect of this witch hunt can be seen already. A mother and father reported their daughter to the police and they wanted to charge their own daughter with lèse majesté.

The president of the “Protect the Nation, Religion and Monarchy Network” reported Aum Neko and friends to the police for supposedly “destroying the Buddhist religion”. Aum Neko is Thammasart student and a transgender and pro-democracy activist. They like to dress up and act in provocative ways. However, there are no accusations against Putta-Isara, the Sutrep-Mob monk who has condoned violence against democracy.

Netiwit Chotipaisarn, a famous progressive secondary school student, has asked the director of the National Human Rights Commission what she thinks about the “Rubbish collection organisation”. He is still waiting for the answer.

Red shirt activist and anti-lese majeste campaigner Ajarn Suda Rangukan has been victimised by Chulalongkorn University. They are refusing to renew her contract. Meanwhile the deans and vice chancellor of this university actively support Sutep’s mob and the destruction of democracy.

We must have zero tolerance for these fascists. But we need to fight back against them collectively, not individually. We need to declare that the witch-hunt is a criminal activity. We need to ask society whether they want the 6th of October to happen again.  If not, they need to do something about this problem. We need to say no to the “Rubbish Collection Organisation” and the Witch-Finder-General.

Thailand: Democratic Audit 2014

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Thailand used to be a beacon of democracy in South-East Asia. Its democratic system was never perfect, but decades of struggle by social movements had limited the powers of the military and un-democratic elites. However, today, Thailand has slipped backwards, nestling comfortably with the various despotic regimes of ASEAN, with only the Philippines and Indonesia having some degree of freedom and democracy.

The state of democracy in Thailand has reached a critical low. The reasons for this sorry state of affairs are both historical and current. This Democratic Audit looks at a number of factors which are fundamental to a thriving democracy. Below is a short summary. To read the full audit please go to: http://www.scribd.com/doc/217694655/Thailand-Democratic-Audit-2014

The audit considers the following 9 factors:

1. The right of citizens to choose the government of their own preference in free and fair elections.

The democratic clock has now been turned back to the dark days of the dictatorship in the 1970s. The main obstacle to democracy is the military. The only glimpse of hope is the continued resistance of the red shirts. In the meantime, all those responsible for the shrinkage of the democratic space: the NGO leaders, middle class academics, mainstream media and conservative elites, are all clamouring to advise Yingluk and Pua Thai to compromise with the anti-democratic thugs.

2. Freedom of expression.

The lèse majesté law in Thailand represents a gross attack on the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and academic freedom. It is a fundamental attack on democracy carried out by the military and all the political elites, including Taksin and Pua Thai.

3. Basic standards of justice for all citizens and measures to prevent state crimes.

Thailand’s judiciary only serve the authoritarian ruling elites. They are also protected by a draconian “contempt of court” law, preventing transparency and accountability in the judicial system. There is no jury system and Thailand locks up political prisoners who dare to express anti-establishment views. Standard practices in jails are mainly designed to reduce the humanity of prisoners. Meanwhile there is a culture of impunity for all state criminals.

4. The integrity of public institutions.

The integrity of public institutions in Thailand has always been poor, with a lack of accountability, transparency and justice. But in the last few years since the 2006 coup d’état, the integrity of public institutions has sunk to an all-time low with almost no institutions enjoying any public confidence or respect.

5. The strength of pro-democratic social movements and citizen participation.

The creation and expansion of the red shirt movement was an historic occasion in Thai social movement history. Despite the fact that the red shirts are a pro-democracy mass movement, they have a number of serious weaknesses. The main weakness is that the political leadership is unelected and dominated by supporters of Taksin and Yingluk’s Pua Thai Party. In Thailand, the social movement for democracy has not arisen from the urban middle classes or the NGOs. In fact the opposite is true because the urban middle classes or the NGOs have become an obstacle to democracy.

6. Respect for the dignity of all citizens, gender rights, racism and self-determination for minorities.

The participation of women in Thai society is reasonably high compared to some other Asian countries. However, as with most countries throughout the world, Thai women are still second-class citizens, subjected to a sexist ideology, subjected to domestic violence and expected to take a dominant role in caring for family members. Abortion is illegal. GLBT rights are non-existent, although the status of GLBT people is not illegal. Thailand is an extremely racist society where derogatory words are used for people of other ethnicities on a day to day basis without any challenges. For over a century the Muslim Malay population in the South have been subjected to authoritarian measures by a Thai state with a vicious colonialist attitude. The poor state of dignity and respect for people of all genders or ethnicities is to an important extent the result of a weak left-wing current in Thai politics. Such a current could act as an opposite poll to the conservative nationalism, racism and sexism of those in power.

7. Trade union and labour rights.

Trade union and labour rights are limited, both by repressive laws and actions of the state, but also by the political weakness of the labour movement itself. Migrant workers have even less rights that Thai nationals and they are prevented from joining trade unions or receiving some benefits.

8. Economic equality.

Thai society is a very unequal society. According to the World Bank, in 2010, the poorest 10% of the population had a 2.8% share of total wealth, whereas the top 10% controlled 31%. The Gini Coefficient stood at 39.4 compared to 32.9 for Japan or 26.8 for Finland. A well-functioning democracy requires a good degree of economic equality and social stability in the lives of citizens. This is important for human dignity, quality of life and also for full citizen participation in politics.

9. Corruption.

Corruption, defined as the use of public position to amass wealth in an immoral manner, is engrained in Thai elite society, which makes it also pervasive among lower ranking government officials. Corruption goes hand in hand with the abuse of power and the conflict of interest among those who hold public office. “Corruption” has become a much devalued word due to the fact that the anti-democrats use the term selectively to merely attack their political opponents, while choosing to ignore the pervasive corruption among all sections of the rich and powerful. Corruption can only be reduced or abolished through increased democracy and public participation in politics.

On all the 9 major “democratic indices” outlined above, Thailand is suffering from an increased democratic deficit. Top down “reform” by the very people who are responsible for this deficit will never solve the problem. The answer lies with the pro-democracy social movements.

Lèse Majesté rears its ugly head again

Numnual  Yapparat 

A book seller has just been taken to court under Lèse Majesté. He sold two books that were not allowed to be sold in Thailand. The first book is “The Devil’s Discus” by Rayne Kurger. According to Wikipedia the book discussed the death of King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII), the older brother of the present king. The book was published in 1964 and was translated into Thai in 1974. In that period the tide of struggle against injustice in Thailand was very high.  The banned book was sold on the black market and the printing press that printed the book was burnt down. The second book was a book from the “Same Skye” publishing company which discussed the role of the Monarchy, and was published in 2005. The book was banned and also the editor was charge with Lèse Majesté in 2006.

The trial started yesterday and the judges demanded that this case be held in secret. On the first day, the judges gathered evidenced from two witnesses, who were undercover police. The trial is utterly lacking in transparency and hence it cannot be a fair process. It is totally disgraceful.

Another event that we need to talk about is that Ajarn Somsak Jeamteerasakul’s house was attacked. Two thugs shot at his house when he was at home working. It is obvious why this outrage happen now. A few days ago a top spokesman for the army said that they were considering charging Somsak with Lèse Majesté. This precipitated threats against him and the physical attack.

Recently Somsak has criticised extreme royalists for their views. He is now asking whether Lèse Majesté also protects people who claim that they love the king. The military is creating a climate of fear to shut up people who want to ask questions about what is going on in Thailand.

Naturally, Pua Thai and their friends have stated firmly that they do not want to abolish Lèse Majesté. They do not care how many people will become victims of this authoritarian law.


Let’s talk about political reform (2): Scrap Lèse Majesté

Numnual  Yapparat

We are writing a series about political reform where we will focus on the main areas that need to be reformed to serve the interests of the majority.

I have written articles about the justice system and why it desperately needs to be changed. You can find those articles in this blog. The law that has been used to bully people who think differently from people in the power is “Lèse Majesté”. This is the ugliest law in Thailand because anyone can be a victim. The most progressive part of the pro-democracy movement has been advocating abolishing or reforming the law. But, Pua Thai and the parties that are participating in the coming election, do not want to touch “Lèse Majesté”. If we are to achieve full democracy we seriously need to scrap this law.

Lèse Majesté is a political law designed to restrict freedom of expression and the ability of citizens to criticise or check the power of those in public positions. The law protects the elites, especially the military.

There are several political prisoners sentenced to jail for decades, especially those who are charged with “Lèse Majesté”.  The only way to get released is to admit guilt. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk has refused to admit guilt. He has done nothing wrong. He has told stories about the conditions in jail. The prisoners have to wear chains on both legs which weigh 5 kg. The prisoners have to clean the chains regularly otherwise they go rusty and people’s legs become infected. It will leave a nasty scar on prisoners’ bodies for life.  Somyot found the clinking of the chains, every time he tried to walk, very depressing. Standard practices in jail are mainly designed to reduce the humanity of prisoners. If you are in jail you are treated like an animal.

According to Somyot, the court hearing processes have been designed to intimidate defendants. The judges have unlimited power. The justice system is long overdue for reform. Thailand needs a jury system and we need the right to criticise judges. At present they are protected against any criticism by their own version of lèse majesté.

Today Somyot wrote about political reform. He said only idiots would believe that real political reform would come from Sutep’s mob. He reminded us that the Democrat Party is a party that has a long record of opposing reforms such as decentralisation, labour rights and the establishment of a social security fund.

Somyot ended his article with the statement: “Since ivory cannot emerge from a dog’s mouth, so political reform can never grow out of the protests of the political scum who are trying to shutdown Bangkok and lead Thailand to the edge of  catastrophe”.

Reform will be meaningless if it does not result in Somyot’s freedom.