As well as its beautiful tropical environs, ancient Buddhist temples, vibrant cities, and exceedingly friendly population, Thailand is particularly famous for the reverence the people have for their monarchy. Indeed, so deeply ingrained is this into the cultural psyche that Thailand remains one of the few countries in the world with any sort of lése-majestè law, and perhaps the only one to rigorously enforce it too. Following the proclamation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s ascension to the Thai throne, there has already been one arrest on this charge.
One Jatupat Boonpattararaksa was arrested at a temple in Chaiyaphum province for reportedly sharing a BBC profile on the latest Thai monarchy on Facebook. Following this action, he was charged under Article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code. Following the death of the former king, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Thai Government has been especially strict about public access to Western media and websites reporting on the Thai monarchy, as they have been deemed unsuitably negative for public consumption. The arrest of Mr. Jatupat in particular has raised questions, and some have suspected that his arrest may have more to do with his anti-junta leanings than any thoughts or comments he might have against the Thai monarchy.
Should he be convicted, he could face as long as fifteen years in prison. His case has been taken up by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.
Lése-majestè is a law in which any defamatory, threatening or critical comments made of the monarchy is a punishable offense. Once common, they have since fallen out of use in most monarchies today, although many laws pertaining to such actions may remain on the books. For example, in October 2007 a man was arrested, imprisoned and fined in the Netherlands for calling Queen Beatrix “a whore”, and claiming that he would have anal sex with her because she’d like it. In most other cases, lése-majestè only covers libel or slander rather than mere insults or criticism.
Thailand’s lése-majestè laws were first enacted in 1908, and have been strictly enforced in every subsequent Constitution. The penalties were strengthened in 1976. The corresponding code, Article 112, reads that any who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent” is to be punished with up to fifteen years incarceration. The Constitution further clarifies that “The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action”. However, international human rights groups have expressed concerns that the lése-majestè laws are often abused by the authorities to arrest political dissidents, in addition to being too harsh in themselves, and stifle free speech and expression.
There is not actually any codified definition as to what constitutes an insult to the Thai monarchy. People have been charged under Article 112 simply for liking a Facebook post that has been deemed offensive to the monarchy. One man was arrested and faces imprisonment simply for posting images of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s favourite dog, while a cleaning lady is being charged simply for commenting “I see” in a series of Facebook comments deemed by her prosecutors to be defamatory.