Friday, May 6, 2011

The Real Lèse-Majesté Offense

One of the most important human rights is the freedom of speech. Not just because this is vital to human creativity. But because it is the only way we have of protecting our other rights – by identifying and exposing violations of human rights.

It is therefore no accident that freedom of speech is one of the first things restricted by oppressive regimes such as Thailand. The current government there, which undemocratically took the reins of power in December 2008, has used a variety of tricks to curb dissension and gag their political rivals.

But, by far, the most egregious and popular trick in their arsenal is to accuse their critics of disloyalty to their “revered” king. Thailand’s draconian lèse majesté laws are more than just censorship. They have been continuously exploited to do away with legitimate political opposition to those that hold the power in Thailand, the Thai military and the Democratic Party. Due to elections coming up and their precarious hold on power, there has recently been a binge of jailing people for lèse majesté.

In less than a month, about 20 opposition figures have been accused of lèse majesté. One of the most notable of these people is Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, who was arrested on April 30th. Somyot is the founder of the Center for Labor and International Solidarity Thailand (CLIST). He is a loyal Thai citizen who has a passionate belief in Human Rights. He is very well known and respected internationally. He is also a journalist and academic promoting freedom of speech. Obviously, this makes him an enemy to the current Thai regime and thus susceptible to arrest on bogus lèse majesté charges.

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk 

Anyone can file a police complaint of lèse majesté and the penalty is up to 15 years in jail per offence. The public is unable to judge the merits of these “so-called” offenses because the press cannot explain them properly without also being accused of violating this draconian law.

The word “Thai” literally means “free” but the Thai people are not free to debate matters regarding their head of state, including even appropriate limits on criticizing him. This is an example of Thai irony or “Thai-rony” as I call it, because in his birthday eve speech on December 4, 2005, Thailand’s King actually criticized the lèse majesté law and acknowledged that he could be criticized and was not afraid of this.

“Actually I must also be criticized. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know. Because if you say the King cannot be criticized, it means that the King is not human.”

But the military, the Democrats and others posing as his protectors have conveniently forgotten his words. They willfully mock his expressed wishes in their inglorious pursuit of those who would try to make Thailand a better place! They use an 83 year old man in ill health as their weapon of choice on their enemies! They do not accord him the respect he deserves as a human being! How despicable these posers are! They are the ones guilty of lèse majesté, whether it is a crime or not, as they have gone against the King’s wishes.

So count me in as being an enemy of the current Thai regime too. Who knows? They may try to charge me with lèse majesté. But in the reasons-to-be-thankful-for-being-an-American category, the Thai military and the Thai Democratic Party hold no sway here. Here, we may honorably respect King Bhumibol’s wishes and criticize him as much as we like. From his 2005 speech though, the King understands the importance of free speech and criticism. He “gets it.” Perhaps it is the “American” in him (he was born in the US).

America’s Founding Fathers were supreme champions of freedom of speech. They made it the very first amendment to the Constitution because they realized that without freedom of speech one cannot even begin to have a democracy. Evidently, the current Thai leadership understands this as well and that is why they are stifling free speech in every possible way they can.

I think Thailand’s King would be more offended by the abuses made by his so called protectors in his name than by what any of those charged have actually said or written. I know that those of us in the rest of the world who respect freedom and justice are offended.

If the current Thai leaders had any trace of humanity, they would immediately release Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and all other political prisoners, apologize to them and the King for their atrocities done in his name, and immediate step down from power.

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