Thais cry foul as illegal criticism of King forges bitter divide

Activists say the law is unfair, unaccountable and has been used against political targets

Bangkok

The two men came from behind as Worachet Pakeerut was parking his car. One of them
punched him in the face and the pair sped off on a motorbike.

“It happened so fast that I couldn’t see their faces,” the law professor and activist said of the attack that left him bleeding and in need of hospital treatment. “Fortunately, other people could see them and were able to describe them to the police.”

Days afterwards, the two men, brothers Supot and Supat Silarat, turned themselves in and told police they had attacked the professor because of his campaign to change a strict law relating to Thailand’s monarchy. “I was not happy,” one of the brothers, Supat, told reporters.

The recent attack on Mr Worachet underscores the increasingly bitter nature of a struggle over Thailand’s controversial lese majeste law, a battle that threatens to reopen old political wounds.

Campaigners such as Mr Worachet, say the law is unfair, unaccountable and has increasingly been used against political targets and to quieten dissidents. But groups who want to retain it and which have taken to the streets to demonstrate, say it is important for retaining harmony with the country. They say the only people who are charged, are those who intended to insult the monarchy.

Currently, someone can be jailed for up to 15 years if convicted of lese majeste, which is part of the legal code relating to national security. There is a minimum sentence of three years and there are groups that scour the internet looking for comments deemed to offensive to King Bhumibol or immediate members of the 84-year-old’s family. Anyone can make an allegation.

The proposals to change article 112 of the criminal code would reduce the maximum punishment to three years and scrap the minimum sentence. One of the campaigners, Puangthong Pawakapan, a professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University, said it was almost impossible to debate the issue openly.

“In Thailand, the king is seen as sacred and [people] believe he is beyond criticism,” she said, in an interview on the university campus. “I think people outside of Thailand know more about the the problems of this law. Also, the Thai mainstream media ignores this issue.”

Those who monitor lese majeste say that from just a handful of cases two decades ago, there are now many dozens every year. Lots relate to postings on the internet.

Among those recently convicted was Amphon Tangnoppakul, a 61-year-old who with seven children was found guilty of sending four offensive SMS messages about the monarchy. In court he pleaded not guilty and said his phone was being repaired at the time the messages were sent. The court was apparently unimpressed because he could not identity the repair shop. This week, the supreme court refused his request for bail.

“The court said he cannot have bail because his case is connected to people’s feelings,” said his wife, Rosmarin Tangnoppakul, who said her husband was depressed and had been unable to attend a cancer check-up since he was jailed. “I now have to contact the lawyer to decide what we are going to do next.”

When Prime Minister Yingluck was elected last sumer, she vowed her government would review the lese majeste law. That has not happened, apparently because of street protests and lingering fear that the government could be ousted, either by a formal coup as in 2006, or forced out amid a “constitutional crisis”. A government advisor told The Independent that for now they had decided to leave the issue alone.

Though not a mirror image, the battle over lese majeste retraces some of the political conflicts between so-called yellow shirts and red shirts that have rocked Thai society in recent years. Duncan McCargo,  a professor of South-east Asian politics at the University of Leeds, said: “Though in many ways extremely important, the lese majeste controversy has also become a proxy struggle between different competing power groups in Thailand, and Yingluck has clearly concluded that she has other priorities.”

Among those at the forefront of the campaign to retain the lese majeste undiluted is Tul Sitthisomwong, a leader of a royalist group and whose allies include former officers involved in the 2006 coup that forced out Ms Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra. Mr Tul, who is a senior medical doctor, said he he believed the law deserved to be a national security issued, “because the king is the head of state, not an ordinary person”.  Mr Tul, whose group is known as the Citizen Network for the Protection of the Motherland, added: “The goal of the lese majeste law is not to punish people, it’s to protect the peace of the nation.”

In a statement, Amnesty International, said: “We are concerned at the severe restrictions on freedom of expression, resulting particularly from the lèse-majesté law and the Computer-related Crimes Act. [We urge]  Thailand to suspend application of these laws until they are brought into compliance with Thailand’s international legal obligations, and to release prisoners of conscience detained under them.”

Suggested Topics
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Sport
sport
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape