A closed-door deliberation on the merits of the controversial lese majeste law was held last week at Chulalongkorn University in an attempt to build bridges and trust between supporters and opponents of the law.
The half-day event, hosted by Mahidol University's Centre for Peace Building and Research, involved some 20 key figures from both sides of the divide, including leader of the multi-coloured shirt royalist group Tul Sittisomwong and opponent of the law Thammasat University historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. The centre's director Gothom Araya led the meeting.
Pravit (5th from left), Tul Sittisomwong (6th), Somsak Jeamteerasakul (8th), and Sombat Boon-ngam-anong (9th)
Since the meeting was off the record, participants were able to speak more freely about the issue, hence it became clear after more than four hours that there still exists a deep-seated fear about the existence of an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the monarchy.
Though some supporters of the law admit that the law is too severe, carrying a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, and should be open for debate, both sides disagree on the time frame in which the law should be amended.
Some opponents of the law expressed concern that the law was exacting too high a price on Thai society in terms of freedom of expression and that the longer it remains as it is, the worse it is for Thai society.
Some royalists expressed concern, however, that any moves to amend or abolish the law would play into the hands of the alleged conspirators who want to overthrow the monarchy.
The opponents also said that the debate on the lese majeste law is just a reflection of a larger issue on what should be an appropriate role and status of the monarchy in a democratic society. However, the two sides have no consensus on the matter.
The meeting was told that perhaps all sides could reach common ground by acknowledging that there are at least three types of negative data on the monarchy: information that is false; facts that are negative but not relevant to the public; and negative facts that are relevant to the public interest.
Negative information about the monarchy deemed relevant to public interest should not be suppressed, an opponent of the law suggested.
Another participant urged society to treat criticism towards the monarchy the way society treats negative comments or criticism against politicians, adding that this was the only way to satisfy the public that everybody is equal and there is no preferential treatment.