You may have seen already a number of articles relating to the rather strict lése-majestè laws within the Kingdom of Thailand already, typically relating to how people have been arrested under them for seemingly harmless actions such as sharing BBC profiles on the newest Thai monarch, or liking Facebook articles that are deemed by the Thai government to be derisive of the monarchy.
Such laws frequently fall prey to international criticism by various watchdog groups, such as Amnesty International, who consider such laws as being detrimental to the freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
However, as an act of mercy, King Maha Vajiralongkorn has recently issued his intention to pardon no less than 15,000 prisoners yesterday, many of which included individuals imprisoned under such laws.
The pardon is not instantaneous or unconditional — each case is to be individually reviewed by a court tribunal to see whether a release can be justified, or at the very least the sentence shortened. The success of each case will depend on factors such as the severity of the crime committed, the age of the convict, their behaviour while incarcerated and the length of their sentence. Typically those arrested and convicted for insulting the Thai monarchy will be sentenced to as long as fifteen years in prison, although some have also been imprisoned for longer. Critics of the system claim that the laws in question are often abused by the military junta currently in control of the Thai government to silence dissidents and suppress opposition to their regime.
As well as those arrested under the lése-majestè laws, a large number of those held in Thai prisoners are those prosecuted under the equally strict anti-drug laws that Thailand enforces, with some 70% of the 320,000 people imprisoned in Thailand composing of those arrested on anti-drug charges. A royal spokesperson commented that the offer of a pardon was an act of mercy on the King’s part, as well as a chance for those convicted to “behave as good citizens”.
Upon his coronation as the new King of Thailand, King Vajiralongkorn has expressed his desire to help mend the fractures in Thai society and politics and hopes his reign will see the beginning of a new era of stability and cooperation for this kingdom, which has seen a number of coups and anti-government action in recent history. King Vajiralongkorn was crowned on the 13th of October 2016.