Far-right Thai Pakdee Party to campaign for expanding notorious lèse-majesté law

An ultraroyalist political party has held a conference to announce that they will campaign to extend the scope of the lèse majesté law to include former Thai kings, princes, and princesses of the current Chakri line. The group thought that the maximum penalty of 15 years in jail for each offence should remain the same.

The newly-founded political party led by Warong Dechgitvigrom said that lèse-majesté speeches by anti-monarchy groups have become more widespread and sophisticated in recent years, undermining the monarchy. However, it remains unclear if Section 112 of the Criminal Code, known as the lèse majesté law, also protects former kings and other royal family members from public criticism.

To clarify the matter, the Thai Pakdee Party together with the Thai Move Institute thinks that the law should also cover former Thai kings of the current Chakri Dynasty and princes and princesses with the rank of Pra Ong Chao or above, because they are all part of the monarchy as an institution.

Section 112 currently says that "whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years." The longest sentence ever delivered was 43 years and 6 months against Anchan Preelert when she was 63 years old.

Thai nouns usually do not have different forms for singular or plural; plurality can be indicated by a number or a collective noun such as 'group' or 'pair.' All of the English translations of Section 112 use singular forms. However, the original Thai text remains confusing for some who question whether the law means "King" or "Kings," a point which right-wing groups have tried to exploit.   

The confusion has real legal implications. In 2018, the police filed charges against an intellectual figure Sulak Sivaraksa for allegedly defaming King Naresuan (1590-1605) of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, a period in which many historians argue the concept of the Thai as a nation had not yet even been created. The court did not indict him due to lack of evidence.

However, recently in November, the Court of Appeal ruled that a 21-year-old was guilty of lèse-majesté for criticizing the philosophy of the sufficiency economy, a concept coined by the late King Rama 9, despite an earlier acquittal. He received a sentence of 1 year and 4 months in jail suspended for 2 years, 1 year of probation and 12 hours of community service.  

The Thai Pakdee Party also wants to campaign for an amendment to the Code of Conduct for MPs to prevent them from using their position as security when requesting bail for political activists, claiming that it is against their oath to comply with the constitution which requires them to defend the monarch as the head of state.

Recently, civil society groups in Thailand raised concerns over the bail process for activists. The issues ranged from unlawful justification for repeated rejections to violations of the principle of the presumption of innocence, to exorbitant amounts of bail money, to restrictions on voluntary guarantors, and to requirements to wear monitoring devices after release.

Obstacle to historical learning

Secretary-General of the opposition Progressive Movement Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, said that recent interpretations of the law could become an obstacle to historical learning in which members of the royal family criticized each other. Most historical textbooks already present a one-sided royalist narrative.

While many of his examples have fallen into the fallacy of appealing to extremes after Thai Pakdee limited their campaign to the current Chakri dynasty, many examples can still be raised to back the concern, such as the ascension of King Rama 1, the first of the Chakri dynasty, which many have called "the era’s first coup" by asking "who killed King Taksin," the only king of the Thonburi dynasty.

Other examples include King Rama 6's dislike of Prince Damrong Rajanubhab and the mysterious death of King Rama 8. The Thai Pakdee amendment could also make it impossible to criticize government policies during historical periods when the monarchy assumed most of the functions of government. A politician has also recently been charged with criticizing the government’s Covid-19 vaccination programme that relied heavily on a company privately owned by King Rama 10.

The Thai Pakdee campaign has emerged as Thailand marks the second year of the return of the lèse-majesté law. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that the law had not been used in prosecutions after 2018 when Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha claimed that the King asked for no prosecutions under Section 112. However, after the mass protests in 2020, the law was reactivated. TLHR records 236 cases against 217 individuals as of October 2022.

The Thai Pakdee proposal is similar to a bill put forward in 2007 by Pornpetch Wichitcholchai to the National Assembly, an unelected legislative body established after the military coup in 2006. While this proposal did not clarify whether Section 112 should cover former Kings, it did say that the law should be extended to cover princes, princesses, and also the privy council and other representatives of the King, but with reduced penalties.

The bill would also authorize the courts to ban any factual reports or criticisms of any trial involving the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, a point which is not found in the Thai Pakdee proposal. While the bill did not pass into law, Pornpetch went on become the President of the National Assembly after the next coup in 2014, and President of the unelected Senate under the current government, an institution which will expire in March 2023.

Note: the last two paragraphs were added on the same day of report to give more context to the story.



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