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Lese Majeste Laws Should Not Be Abused to Muzzle Others

Bangkok

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Opinion & Analysis by Burin Kantabutra

Lese Majeste Laws: Are They Really the Answer?

I am no fan of Thaksin, yet I am very concerned at the Criminal Court’s sentencing Voice of Thaksin editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk to 10 years in jail for lese majeste: first, it appears to go directly counter to His Majesty’s clearly expressed wishes. Second, it seeks to silence that which is unpopular, even though it may be downright wrong.

“Thailand’s law of lèse-majesté has one very prominent critic:

King Bhumibol himself.

In 2005, after an increase in politically inspired lèse-majesté complaints, King Bhumibol used his annual televised birthday address to convey three concerns: (a) The king, he said, is a human being and as such should be subject to criticism. Charges against those accused of lèse-majesté should be dropped, and those held in jail for lèse-majesté should be released. The use of the lèse-majesté law ultimately damages the monarchy” (King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work” (Nicholas Grossman and Dominic Faulder, 2012, page 313).

Both the Pheua Thai- led government and Opposition vehemently disagree with His Majesty, for they keep insisting on harsh enforcement of the law, and our learned judges disagree also. Their disagreement with His Majesty is fine, as our beloved King has graciously admitted that he could be wrong.

But, laws and verdicts must be defendable if we are to learn from them and be convinced that justice has been done – and our government, led by our House Speaker, forbids even discussing amending the lese majeste laws, so how can we learn who’s right- the politicians and judges, or His Majesty?

What kind of democracy is this, where we are not allowed to discuss, let alone decide on what is just for ourselves?

Secondly, the laws and the verdict seek to silence that which is unpopular.

I suggest that every person has the right to make a fool of himself, for what is wrong today may be right tomorrow: remember, the most learned people of Gallileo’s day were convinced that the sun revolved around the earth, and forced him to recant for saying otherwise, on pain of death. I am with Justice William J. Brennan when he stated, “…The government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Politicians should not use lese majeste laws to shut people up.

Either show that His Majesty is wrong, or carry out His Majesty’s wishes and let those in jail go free, rather than using these laws to weaken our beloved institution.

Burin Kantabutra

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