Prominent Thai academic charged with insulting monarchy | Connect Asia

Prominent Thai academic charged with insulting monarchy

Prominent Thai academic charged with insulting monarchy

Updated 18 January 2012, 20:45 AEDT

While there are many stated differences between Thailand's competing political parties, their one constant, as with all Thais, is a reverence for the Thai royal family.

But with new charges facing authors and academics, and censorship being suggested for community radio stations and internet conversations on the king and monarchy, the reasons behind legally imposing this reverence are being questioned.

Presenter: Adam Connors

Giles Ungpakorn, political science professor from Chulalongkorn University; Supinya Klangnarong, a coordinator with the Thai Netizen Network; Somchai Homlaor, human rights lawyer and secretary general of the Human Rights and Development Foundation

CONNORS: Over the few years... and with the oft changing political landscape in Thailand... the use of the criminal charge of "offending the dignity of the monarch" seems to be increasing.

The charge of lese majeste is a high crime in Thailand, and respected Thai political commentator Giles Ungpakorn has just found out... he has fallen foul of the charge.

UNGPAKORN: Well, I arrived back from a visit to the United Kingdom for Christmas on Sunday and I found a warrant issued forcing me to go to the police station to answer to charges of or listen to charges of lese majeste, for the book that I wrote soon after the coup-de-tate. It's called "A Coup for the Rich" and I don't know the actually details about which particular lines are supposed to be lese majeste.

CONNORS: Lese majeste says that defamatory, insulting or threatening comments about the king, queen or regent are punishable by three to 15 years in prison.

But the professor from Chulalongkorn University believes there's a different motivation in the charges against him.

UNGPAKORN: Well, the current Democrat Government has announced they want to crackdown on lese majeste, especially web sites, which of course has the support of the military. In fact it's formed by military pressurising members of parliament to switch sides. I think it has to be said that lese majeste really in my opinion is very little about protecting or building a stable monarchy. It's about legitimising the actions of the army or the conservative elite.

CONNORS: As well as academia being targeted, Thailand's internet and community radio sectors are coming under increasing pressure to reconsider any postings vaguely linked to negative expression of King and Monarchy.

To discuss renewed threats of censorship, a coordinator with the Thai Netizen Network, Supinya Klangnarong, met with new Thai Prime Minister Ahbisit on Tuesday morning.

KLANGNARONG: Yes, we met the prime minister according to the policy announced member of the cabinet saying that they would set a "war room" to tackle or to deal with the lese majeste website content and they would use national security act to curtail the community page also. We are concerned about that, that it would mean violate political right and freedom right, so we came to meet with the prime minister and submitted the petition.

CONNORS: There seems to be a lot of groups at the moment looking for the same thing of lese majeste. So how did the prime minister react to your requests and your solutions?

KLANGNARONG: We had a good impression and he said that he understood the point to uphold the free expression in Thailand, but somehow he asked us to understand him and his cabinet as well, because he also was pressurised by many groups.

CONNORS: These situations both sound similar to those faced by human rights lawyer and Secretary General of the Human Rights and Development Foundation, Somchai Homlaor.

Mr Somchai is a lawyer for social critic Sulak Sivaraksa, charged with lese majesty since November -- right in the middle of the Thailand's latest political upheaval.

HOMLAOR: The political parties are the politicians always use all ways and means against each other and this is one of the tools to attack their political enemies.

CONNORS: Why isn't the monarchy itself speaking up yet again about the overuse of this law?

HOMLAOR: He spoke I think five years ago and what we know that I think the monarchy is not so happy that the politicians use these often as the political tools, because it damage the monarchy itself.

CONNORS: Why isn't the monarchy telling politicians please stop using it?

HOMLAOR: Oh, sometimes I don't know the reason, but anyhow I believe that it should be the government officers and the people should really comply with his comments and give up using this as a political tool.

CONNORS: While it may be a so-called "political tool" that harms the status of the monarchy, it also targets real people and increasingly, as Giles Ungpakorn says the foundations of Thailand's democracy.

UNGPAKORN: I reject the accusation that my book crime, or that I have committed a crime by writing this book. This is an academic book, which attempts to understand the workings of a constitutional monarchy in Thailand and unless we have the right to discuss this, then we won't have proper freedom, democracy in Thailand.

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