Freedom of Expression in Thailand
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 19th January, 2009
One doesn’t normally think of Thailand as a repressive society, especially not in comparison with some of its neighbours, particularly Burma. But there is one striking feature of the Thai legal framework that sticks out like a sore thumb: its laws on lese majesté. Criticism of the monarchy is illegal and can land the unwary into deep trouble, as the young Australian writer, Harry Nicolaides, has discovered to his cost. He has just had a three-year jail sentence confirmed for writing a few lines about a dissolute fictional Thai Crown Prince in his novel, Verisimilitude. He has already been in detention for five months and had originsally been sentenced to six years. No wonder he has described the whole affair as an Alice in Wonderland experience — especially as his novel sold precisely seven copies.
According to the BBC’s correspondent in Bangkok, Jonathan Head (who is facing lesser, unrelated charges of lese majesté himself), it is not clear why the authorities have dealt so severely with Harry Nicolaides, who says he has suffered severely in prison, but there has been a rise in similar cases taken out against Thai nationals as well, as the military (amongst others) seek to protect the image of octogenarian King Bhumibol and his family. The King is genuinely revered by most Thais, which makes the current laws and their stringent appplication somewhat unnecessary. Moreover, sending people to prison for expressing views about the monarchy — even in fiction — is only going to heighten the debate about the Thai succession and the future role of the monarchy, which has been one of the side-effects of recent political turmoil in Thailand. As far as the international community is concerned, the new Liberal-led (Democrat Party) government in Bangkok will now come under scrutiny regarding its response to this situation.