“We have to accept that the King, the Prince and Princesses are just ordinary people…I believe the King does not want false respect and that he is open to honest criticism. The monarchy is necessary as the centre of unity in the country, its status is must remain above politics and economics. It must be above manipulation by politicians, businessmen and multinational corporations. It does not require power or extreme wealth, but respect from the populace.
We must somehow help the monarchy to exist meaningfully in Thai society.”
The term lèse majesté derives from the Latin laesa maiestas (injured majesty). It refers to a perceived injury, defamation or insult to the dignity of a state’s sovereign or the state itself.
Lèse Majesté in Thailand
Thailand’s constitution has contained a clause restricting lèse majesté since 1908.
The latest version of the Thai Constitution, written in 1997, contains multiple clauses restricting lèse majesté:
Article 112. Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir apparent or the regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.
A person undergoing training and instruction in the profession mentioned in thefirst paragraph who discloses any private secret which becomes known or communicated to him in such training and instruction, in a mannerlikely to cause injury to any person, shall be liable to the same punishment.
Article 326. Whoever, by communication made to a third person, imputes anything in a manner likely to injure the reputation of any other person or to expose such person to public hatred or contempt, is said to have committed defamation, and shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding one year or fined not in excess of twenty-thousand baht, or both.
Article 328. If the defamation is committed by means of publication of a document, drawing, painting, motion picture, or by letters made visible by any means, record or recorder, or by broadcasting or propagation by any means, the offender shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding two years and a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand baht, or both.”
L.M. in 'Hok Tulaa'
Over the past century, the L.M. law has been used to suppress and silence potential critics of the government (not simply the monarchy). It has been invoked by military authorities, politicians and Thai commoners alike- however, the list of L.M. users is conspicuously lacking any member of the royal family. In fact, no Thai royal has ever made an accusation of L.M., suggesting a motive other than protection of the monarchy.
In October 1976, a play performed by Thammasat University students was deemed as parodying the Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn; the then-military government formally denounced the performance as subversive to the monarchy several hours later. As a result, the military descended upon the campus of Thammasat, where a demonstration of students and their supporters was taking place.
Along with a mob of civilian Thais incensed at the L.M. charge, the military proceeded to conduct what is now referred to as "hok Tula" (6th October), the most brutal and horrifying display of civilian slaughter in Thai history: "Students were shot from a distance, hacked to pieces with axes, beaten to death with chairs, doused in gas and lit aflame, raped, shot at point blank range, hanged while still alive, shot repeatedly and sexually mutilated…and had pieces of wood hammered into their chests. Some of those who placed their hands behind their heads and surrendered were set upon by the crowd and killed. For most who lived, they were stripped, forced to crawl upon their hands and knees, made to lie prostrate on the ground, stolen from, humiliated, arrested, jailed…The state’s interpretation of the drama as a political parody of the monarchy brought down the state’s full lethal force thundering down on the heads of the public.” (from The Poetics of Subversion, by David Streckfuss, pp. 3-4)
Although this is an extreme result of the L.M. law, it appropriately demonstrates the chilling potentials of L.M. The fury of those Thais who participated in the slaughter against their fellow civilians and worked in unison with the military is particularly striking. Currently, no one, including the officers who ordered the massacre, have been charged.
The more common implementation of L.M. law is against Thais who publicly criticize the King in speech, writing, or through the media. An incomplete list of those, Thai and foreign, currently involved in L.M. charges, includes
Chotisak Onsoong (political activist)
Thaksin Shinawatra (former Prime Minister, ousted in 2006 and currently in exile)
Jakrapob Penkair (former spokesman for former PM Thaksin Shinawatra)
Executive Committee of the FCCT (13 member committee of Foreign Correspondants’ Club of Thailand)
Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul (political activist)
Sulak Sivaraksa (leading Thai intellectual, author, social activist)
Harry Nicolaides (Australian author)
Giles Ji Ungpakorn (Professor at Chulalongkorn University)
Chiranuch Premchaiporn (editor of Prachathai, see Resources/More Info page)
Jonathan Head (BBC Correspondant in Bangkok)
Kokaew Phikulthong (political activist/leader of redshirts)
Papatchanan Ching-in (redshirt leader)
Richard Lloyd Parry (Asia Editor for The London Times)
Sondhi Limthongkul (media mogul, yellowshirt supporter)
Suchart Nakbangsai (political activist)
Surachai Sae Dan (political activist)
Thanapol Eawsakul (editor of Fah Diew Kan magazine)
Included are politicians (Shinawatra), intellectuals (Sivaraksa), foreign media (Jonathan Head), as well as civilians (Onsoong, etc.). The accusations range from the minor ( not standing for the King's anthem in a movie theatre; not including the King's picture in an article about him; drukenly spray painting the King's portrait) to fairly serious (questioning monarchy in public speech; publishing "subversive" articles). Yet, even the most ardent L.M. charges are against nothing more than public expression.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej (top) during a royal procession; King Bhumibol, Queen Sirikit and Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn (mid right); aftermath of 'hok tulaa' (bottom right).
©Lee Masina, created: December 17, 2009, updated: December 18, 2009