In August 2008, Harry Nicolaides, a self-published author and university lecturer, was arrested at the airport in Bangkok for allegedly committing lese-majeste. According to the police, a paragraph in his little read book published a few years ago was slanderous towards the Crown Prince. Harry was denied bail and has been sitting in an overcrowded cell for nearly five months awaiting trial. He initially pleaded not-guilty saying that he was unaware of the strict lese-majeste law.
Although I feel sorry for the guy, it is hard to believe that a teacher and a writer could know so little about the culture of Thailand. If you check any “Do’s and Dont’s” list for Thailand, you will always see mention of this: “Do not insult the monarchy”. In fact, most books go on to say that you should avoid any discussion of the monarchy which could be seen as criticism. In Thailand, lese-majeste is a serious offence. It doesn’t matter if you are Thai or not. In 2007, Oliver Rudolf Jufer from Switzerland was sentenced to ten years for spraying graffiti over portraits of H.M. The King. He was later pardoned.
Although I admire the tireless work of H.M. The King and the royal family, I feel very scared about the lese majeste law in Thailand. Anyone can lodge a charge of lese majeste against anyone. A few months back, someone didn’t stand up for the King’s anthem at the start of a movie and another patron called the police. Opposition politicians tried to bring down the government by charging them with saying something against the monarchy. PM’s Office Minister Jakrapob Penkair was forced to resign because of a speech he made to foreign correspondents. Even Jonathan Head, the Bangkok bureau chief for the BBC has been charged with lese majeste recently for a report he filed. A few days ago, someone was arrested for writing something against the King on the Internet. What he wrote and where we don’t know and will probably never know. For newspapers to print the charges in full is lese majeste in itself. A media mogul has already been charged for doing this.
To be clear, here is the law in question:
Section 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.
Luckily for Harry, he changed his plea to guilty at the last moment. As a consequence, the judge decided to halve his sentence. However, the news wasn’t good for him or his family in Australia:
“He was found guilty under criminal law article 112 and the court has sentenced him to six years, but due to his confession, which is beneficial to the case, the sentence is reduced to three years,” a judge told the court. “He has written a book that slandered the king, the crown prince and Thailand and the monarchy,” the judge added. (Source: Bangkok Post)
As a blogger in Thailand I have two problems here. I cannot quote the short paragraph in Harry’s book. If I do then I am committing lese majeste even though I would state I don’t agree with the paragraph in question. My second problem in writing about this case is that I cannot comment on the decision of the judge or the sentence given. If I do, I could face charges of “contempt of court” and be sent straight to prison. I will also lock the comments section. If someone posts something bad about the royal family and I am slow to delete it, then I too could be arrested. It would be wise for me not to say anything. However, I would ask for everyone to take this case as a good lesson.
DO NOT DISCUSS THE THAI ROYAL FAMILY IN ANY WAY THAT COULD BE SEEN AS BEING NEGATIVE. YOU COULD FACE IMPRISONMENT OF THREE TO FIFTEEN YEARS.
I am going to finish by quoting Section 133 of the Criminial Code. It shows that Thailand also respects the Royal Families and Head of States of other countries:
Section 133: Whoever, defaming, insulting or threatening the Sovereign, Queen, Consort, Heir-apparent or Head of Foreign State, shall be imprisoned from one to seven years or fined from two thousand to fourteen thousand baht, or both.
So, be careful what you say aginst the Queen of England or the President of the United States! You should also take note of section 135 as that forbids the burning of flags as you could face two years in prison. I think we had a flag burning demonstration outside the US embassy recently in Bangkok. If you are American, I guess you could just go to the local police station and lay charges.
Stay safe and long live H.M. The King of Thailand.
(Picture credits: Reuters)
Related Blog: Thai Royal Family and Lese Majeste