Reforming Lese Majeste in Thailand
Every day, more and more citizens of Thailand are awakening to the tragedy that is the modern-day enforcement of Article 112. As the arrests, convictions, and harsh sentences continue to come fast and furious, concern is mounting over the damage that this savagery is doing not just to its victims, but to the country and monarchy itself. Thailand has had enough of this dated law, and the outrageous manner in which it has been enforced.
Given that there is no longer any doubt that public opinion in Thailand is on the move, the country’s elected leaders should have the good sense to work towards reforms that are not only in the interest of justice, but are increasingly supported by their own constituents. This does not seem to be happening. Instead of defending the country, and the institution by standing up for what is right, the people’s honorable representatives continue to outdo one another in extremism and hysteria.
It is not so surprising that the incongruously named Democrat Party would continue to beat the 112 drum to weaken the government, even in the face of the public’s growing discomfort with it. The Democrats are not interested in appealing to a majority of the electorate. For them, weakening the government means inflaming the hatred of a small fanatical fringe, the same people who helped pave the way for the Abhisit’s rise to power in 2008. Their new rabid spokesperson Mallika Boonmeetrakul, who has made Thailand into a laughingstock with her proposals to seal off the country from the national security threat posed by YouTube and Facebook, operates freely only thanks to the complicit silence of the party’s leadership.
Pheu Thai knows better. Many of its leaders and supporters have personally suffered the indignity of being accused of disloyalty for political reasons. Most of them understand just how damaging 112 is to the country and the monarchy, and are well aware that the people who died in 2010 sacrificed their lives for a greater cause than exchanging one government for another. Because of this it is all the more upsetting and disappointing to hear cabinet members announce the government’s commitment to more surveillance, more censorship, and more arrests.
It is possible that Pheu Thai feels pressured to use this rhetoric, and to uphold the policies of the military and the Democrat Party, in order to reassure the establishment and prevent a possible coup. However, the government must not cede to either the army or the party of the army, control over policy on matters of freedom of expression. The fear of a coup cannot become the weapon by which the establishment, having failed to defeat Pheu Thai, gets Pheu Thai to defeat itself by abandoning its own values, leaving the party’s supporters to wonder what exactly it is they have been fighting for.
This government came into office with a democratic agenda, and a mandate to pull the country out of the quicksands of intolerance and fear. Its success and ultimately its legacy are predicated on its ability to muster the strength to reform the laws and practices that are holding the country back. These reforms are not only necessary for Thailand to comply with international obligations, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged on Friday. Even conservative figures like Anand Panyarachun and the members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the previous government support a comprehensive revision of 112, as do growing numbers of ordinary citizens. More than it has ever been, Thailand is ready for an adult conversation about the way forward.
It is becoming clear that some within PT believe that reconciliation can be accomplished without rule of law. This is not possible. 112 prosecutions violate the most fundamental precept of rule of law, which is “legal notice.” Without the ability to understand in clear language what constitutes a violation, no law-abiding citizen can offer intelligent comprehensive views and fully exercise their democratic rights. Moreover, with the constant threat of prosecution, demotion, and character hanging over the heads of those who would practice restraint in the law’s enforcement, police officers, prosecutors, and judges are effectively prevented from exercising the kind of discretion that could help restore a semblance of reasonableness and fairness to the application of 112.
Given the recent sentences for 112 violations for terms of imprisonment that may exceed those imposed for murder, each accused immediately enters the ranks of political prisoner. Even Amnesty International in Thailand has finally been compelled to say something. The fact that Amnesty has been roused to act, something they were incapable of doing under the Democrats, is a sure sign that these prosecutions have reached levels of true hysteria.
We cannot seek justice while upholding the previous government’s attitude to censorship. This is a fundamental issue. We must confront the Dual State and uphold rule of law for the benefit of all Thais.