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Two Australian academics want a baby elephant to be named after a political prisoner in Thailand, as a way to draw attention to his case.

 The elephant was born at Sydney's Taronga Zoo and is the first to be born in Australia. It's sure to be a drawcard for visitors but will it be named after Suwicha Thakor, who was jailed for insulting Thailand's king?

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speakers: Dr Andrew Walker, fellow at the Australian National University

Listen: Windows Media

WALKER: Suwicha Thakor is a political prisoner in Thailand. He's been sentenced to 10 years in prison for posting satirical images of the Thai King on the internet. It's an outrageous and draconian charge and we think that naming the baby elephant after him is a good way of highlighting Australia's concern about his fate.

LAM: What does Taronga Zoo make of you politicising their little baby elephant?

WALKER: We haven't had any reaction from the zoo yet, but I think it's important to remember that in South East Asia and in Thailand in particular, elephants for a very long time have been a symbol of power and politics and we're trying to pick up on that symbolism to gently make a very important point about human rights.

LAM: And of course, the baby elephant is behind bars like the political prisoner?

WALKER: That's right and we're also trying to highlight the fact that due to the very good care provided at Taronga, the life of the baby elephant behind bars will be much, much more pleasant than the life Suwicha Thakor faces in a Thai prison.

LAM: The lese majeste law in Thailand is there because the people of Thailand love their king, but so to many people, it would seem that Suwicha Thakor did break the law and did offend a few people?

WALKER: Well, the lese majeste law is there to prevent political discussion on certain issues related to the monarchy and whatever we might think about whether Suwicha was disrespectful or impolite, that might be one issue. Putting someone in prison for ten years for being disrespectful and perhaps impolite, is a draconian and excessive charge.

LAM: How much support have you had from the wider community in Thailand? Have you put out your feelers there?

WALKER: Well, we've certainly had some positive reaction on the blog that we run and a number of international blogs have picked it up. There is a campaign going on in Thailand to reform this very draconian lese majeste law and we're trying to offer our international support to people who are campaigning for human rights at considerable personal risk to themselves.


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