Thai social activist and political professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn is to present himself at a Thai police station today at 10 am with a lawyer to answer charges of insulting Thai royalty under the country’s lese majeste laws, among the world’s most restrictive. Yesterday, an Australian novelist, Harry Nicolaides, 41, was jailed for three years after pleadng guilty for writing a passage in a novel that was judged to have slandered the royal family.
Ungpakorn particularly becomes the latest in a disturbing and growing string of people who have been charged in what increasingly looks like use of the laws to stifle dissent that have nothing to do with the royal family and everything to do with maintaining political control.
“The 19th September 2006 military coup in Thailand claimed ‘royal legitimacy’ in order to hide the authoritarian intentions of the military junta,” Ungpakorn wrote in an email to Asia Sentinel. “Lese majeste charges have not been used to protect Thai Democracy under a constitutional monarchy as claimed. The charges are used against people who criticized the coup and disagree with the present destruction of democracy. They are used to create a climate of fear and censorship.”
Last week, in an interview with Reuters, Pirapan Salirathavibaga, a former judge and the Justice Minister under the newly installed Democrat Party administration, compared use of the lese majeste law to traveler protections in the United States.
“When you visit the United States, he told the news agency, “your rights have been infringed when you have to take your shoes or your belt off for an airport security check. That is done for the sake of national security. In Thailand, your freedom of speech might have to be compromised for the sake of national security.”
Ungpakorn said he would release a statement following his appearance at the police station, and that he would fight the charges. “There will be people with me outside the police station who have decided to come and give me moral support,” he said. He added that he would stand his own bail as a civil servant.
The law is so broad that it subjects to arrest and three to 15 years in prison not only any individual who defames or offends the monarch, members of the royal family “or their interims” but anyone who “otherwise wishes ill towards” not just the monarch but by extension his councilors and advisors and members of the Buddhist leadership, among others.
Ungpakorn, an associate professor at the faculty of political science at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, wrote a series of critical articles since the coup that were published in Asia Sentinel, among other publications. He is facing lese majeste charges for writing a book "A Coup for the Rich", which criticized the 2006 military coup. Other prominent figures who have been charged under the law are former government minister Jakrapob Penkae, a member of the now-ousted People’s Power Party, who asked a critical question at the Foreign Correspondent's Club in Bangkok about the monarchy. He is due to come up for trial on March 5.
There is also the case of Chotisak Oonsung, a young student who failed to stand for the King's anthem in the cinema. Activist Suchart Nakbangsai, a critic of the coup and the removal from office of two successive democratically elected governments, is believed to have jumped bail and fled the country to avoid trial, according to a statement last week by Metropolitan Police commissioner Lt General Suchart Muenkaew.
In July, Metropolitan police arrested Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, known as ''Da Torpedo'', another activist and leader of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), on lese majeste charges following speeches in a July rally against the coup and its aftermath. Boonyuen Prasertying, another activist, was given six years in prison for lese majeste on charges she had attempted to insult or used slanderous words against the king’s son and heir apparent, the unpopular Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, during a rally. She was originally given 12 years last November but her term in prison has since been cut in half.
In addition to those who opposed the coup, the BBC correspondent Jonathan Head has been charged for critical reporting on the government. Included in the charges was a picture shown of Head shaking hands with the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in the 2006 coup by forces believed to be closely allied with the royal family.
The latest person to be thrown into jail and refused bail is Suwicha Takor, according to activists, who is charged for surfing the internet. Some 2,300 websites have been blocked in Thailand, with another 400 added recently.
The Thai Minister of Justice has called for a blanket ban on reporting these cases in the Thai media, which the mainstream Thai media are largely observing.
“Thus we are seeing a medieval style witch hunt taking place in Thailand with ‘secret’ trials in the courts, an activist group supporting Ungpakorn said in a prepared statement.
The Justice Ministry is also refusing to publish figures of lese majeste cases.
Please sign this open letter
Stop the use of "lese majesty" in Thailand. Defend freedom of speech
We, the undersigned, oppose the use of lese majeste in Thailand in order to prevent freedom of speech and academic freedom. We demand that the government cease all proceedings in lese majeste cases.
The 19th September 2006 military coup in Thailand claimed "Royal legitimacy" in order to hide the authoritarian intentions of the military junta. Lese Majeste charges have not been used to protect "Thai Democracy under a Constitutional Monarchy" as claimed. The charges are used against people who criticised the coup and disagree with the present destruction of democracy. They are used to create a climate of fear and censorship.
One obvious case is that of Associate Professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn, from the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University. He is facing Lese Majeste charges for writing a book "A Coup for the Rich", which criticised the 2006 military coup. (Read the book at http://wdpress.blog.co.uk/). Others who have been accused of Lese Majeste are former government minister Jakrapop Penkae, who asked a question at the Foreign Correspondent's Club in Bangkok, about exactly what kind of Monarchy we have in Thailand. There is also the case of Chotisak Oonsung, a young student who failed to stand for the King's anthem in the cinema. Apart from this there are the cases of Da Topedo and Boonyeun Prasertying. In addition to those who opposed the coup, the BBC correspondent Jonathan Head, an Australia writer names Harry Nicolaides, social critic Sulak Sivaraksa are also facing charges. The latest person to be thrown into jail and refused bail is Suwicha Takor, who is charged with Lese Majeste for surfing the internet. The Thai Minister of Justice has called for a blanket ban on reporting these cases in the Thai media. The main stream Thai media are obliging. Thus we are seeing a medieval style witch hunt taking place in Thailand with "secret" trials in the courts. The Justice Ministry is also refusing to publish figures of lese majeste cases.
We call for the abolition of les majeste laws in Thailand and the defence of freedom and democracy.