Government of Thailand and the ASEAN
ABOLITION of the Thai law of LÈSE MAJESTÉ
(ARTICLE 112 of the Thai Criminal Code)
RELEASE of all LM and POLITICAL PRISONERS
PREAMBLE to the PETITION
This petition has been initiated by people and organisations who are increasingly concerned about the future of democracy in Thailand, and in the ASEAN Community.
Following the bloody, military crackdown in Thailand in April – May 2010 that killed 93 people and wounded nearly 2000, lèse majesté laws have been increasingly used to silence the rising disgust at the complete absence of justice in Thailand.
If not already in jail, almost all civil society leaders opposing the Abhisit Government are now facing charges of lèse majesté.
Stepping clear from royalist propaganda and taboo, this petition addresses one of the root causes of the Thai Crisis: the impact of the threat of lèse majesté on the development of democracy.
Thai democracy and the law of lèse majesté
Refusing to hold Thailand’s royalist Yellow-Shirts responsible for ransacking Government House and occupying the international airports, on 2nd December 2008, Thailand’s Constitutional Court showed the world, once again, what it is – by ordering the dissolution of the People Power Party and other parties of the governing coalition, so that the royalist Democrat Party could re-take command of the affairs of state. Eight days later the new Government was overseeing activities to celebrate Thailand’s signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December 1948!
The reality is that Thai people have never experienced “the inherent dignity of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” described in the preamble to the Declaration.
After the overthrow of Absolute Monarchy in June 1932 Thailand was supposed to become a ‘Monarchy under Democracy’.
The old law of lèse majesté was first defined in writing, as a crime, in 1900, and included in the Criminal Code in 1909. In 1932 the new People’s Parliament created Article 104. This stated that . . “criticism of Monarchy or Government or both, in spoken or written form, is not a crime if the objective can be proven to be the upholding of the Constitution for the benefit of the people.”
Just 15 years later Thailand’s fledgling democracy movement was decapitated by the military coup of 1947. Since then the development of the people and the country has been suffocated and stultified by the non-stop monarcho-militarism of the power-elite.
Through subjugation to a Head of State that sits “in an inviolate position of revered worship” that “no person may expose to any sort of accusation or action”, during the 63 years the rights of the Thai citizenry have been routinely violated in all manner of ways.
In 1956 Field-Marshal Phibun re-formulated the law of lèse majesté as Article 112 of the Criminal Code, raising the maximum penalty to 7 years behind bars.
Under banners of ‘War against Communism’ and ‘Protect the Monarchy’, the kingship of Bhumibol has always been the hand in the glove the generals use to hold the citizenry down, while the other is executing anybody considered a threat.
The scant records that are available show that at least 11 000 lives have been terminated by some form of political assassination since 1947. The long, terrible list of mainly small farmers, workers, students and poor people also includes the lives of Ministers, MPs, academics, writers, journalists and so on. With so few records and still so little research, the total number of Thai people that have perished in political oppression and struggle for their democratic rights since 1947 is unknown, but it is probably close to 30,000. (See: 60 Years of Oppression and Suppression in Thailand )
Alongside the kingdom’s ‘Protect the Monarchy’ and ‘Killing communists is not a sin’ and ‘Love the King’ propaganda, the law of lèse majesté has always been the Establishment’s most handy tool to silence criticism.
Misuse of Power
After the October 1976 student massacre, military junta Order 41 raised the maximum sentence for lèse majesté (LM Article 112) to 15 years. As the law now stands it states that . . “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with 3 – 15 years imprisonment.” In 2008 the Democrat Party attempted, unsuccessfully, to increase the sentence to 20 years!
Under the LM laws, anybody can accuse anybody of having defamed the power of the King, not just in the present but also at any time during the last 15 years. Any person can file a case against any person for any reason true or false. This atmosphere of paranoia central to Thailand’s divide-and-rule politics is secured by the Royal Guard, the 50,000-strong force of the most highly trained and equipped troops in the Royal Thai Army – all paid by public money.
During the 64 years since Bhumibol became Head of State, the Palace has approved about 10 military coups.
The ’19 September Military Coup’ in 2006 that ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets demanding dissolution of Abhisit’s Democrat Party puppet government that replaced it. Most wore red . . and demanded a General Election.
Since then, using the usual ‘national security’ and ‘protect the monarchy’ slogans as cover, Thai royalists have been applying Article 112 with increasing voracity, mainly to stifle criticism of intervention in democratic procedure by the Palace, Army and Judiciary, and to maintain conditions for divide-and-rule.
In April-May 2010, massive Red Shirt protests were smashed by the mobilization of the Royal Guard, most notably the Queen’s Guard. Prime Minister Abhisit authorised military use of live ammunition against civilians in a ‘Live Firing Zone’ in the centre of Bangkok. Between 10 April to 19 May, in some of the most horrific scenes of carnage in the history of the struggle, 93 people died, most from military sniper bullets to head or chest. Almost 2 000 were wounded.
As more and more people, including academicians, began directing frustration and anger at Thailand’s monarcho-militarism, the Abhisit Government responded with much greater censorship of the internet, with the setting-up of ‘Cyber Scout’ units to monitor users around the clock, and with the formation of various new units under the Department of Special Investigations (DSI) – to investigate and charge people with lèse majesté under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act in conjunction with Article 112.
In 2011 even Freedom House dropped Thailand’s ranking from ‘Partly free’ to ‘Not free’, and Reporters Without Borders dropped Thailand from 59 to 153 in their Press Freedom Index.
After the 2006 military coup the number of people charged with LM rose abruptly from less than 10 per year to 100. In 2010 it topped 500. Today nobody knows how many hundreds of people are charged or being charged with LM, either in or out of jail – not even our lawyers.
LM victims are political prisoners
Most LM victims are jailed immediately on arrest – and refused bail. In jail they are often singled out for extra persecution. Only celebrities or the very rich can manage to negotiate bail. Once threatened with LM most people have no choice other than to flee the country or go into hiding.
Here are a few LM cases that help to describe the situation in Thailand today.
Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, 48, a media woman turned anti-coup activist was jailed in August 2009 and sentenced to 18 years in prison. She is being denied a proper hearing and, in facing severe health problems is being denied proper treatment. So far, after 3 years, brave Daranee remains unbroken.
Tanthawut Taweewarodomkul, 40, a Red Shirt website designer and single father, was ambushed at his home by a gang of police and jailed immediately – in April 2010. The police claim that the ‘UDD-USA’ website he administered was ‘A threat to the monarchy’. From prison he wrote to his 10 year-old son that: “What Dad wishes You to know is that he is most troubled by not being with you. Web (the son’s name) must know that Dad has not killed anybody, not cheated anybody, not sold any drugs and not deceived anybody. Dad worked as best he could with the skills he had to help his friends, and for doing this he was arrested.”
Surachai Sae-Dan, 68, a founding member of Red Siam, was jailed on 22 February 2011. He was suffering many illnesses already before being jailed, and is now hospitalised after a hunger-strike against mistreatment in jail. In his will, written in prison, he tells his young followers: ‘Never give up, never loose hope. Keep fighting.”
Somyot Pruksakemsuk, 48, a well-known labour rights activist and editor of Red Power, was arrested at the Thai-Cambodia border on 30 April 2011. Sending a letter from prison entitled ‘Victim of the Unjust’ he states . . ‘I shall fight for freedom until my last breath’.
Joe Gordon, 52, a Thai-American, in Thailand for health treatment, was ambushed by a gang of 20 DSI agents in Northeast Thailand. He was thrown into prison on 24 May 2011 and charged for translating to Thai the book called ‘The King never smiles’, and for posting it on a web-board in 2008 – 2009.
Ampon Tangnoppakul, 61, was sentenced to 20-years in prison on 23 November 2011, for allegedly sending four SMS messages critical of the Queen to Somkiat Klongwattanasak, a personal secretary to former PM Abhisit Vejjajiva. Ampon strenuously denies sending the messages. He suffers laryngeal cancer and has no access to treatment in jail.
(For more information on lèse majesté victims see: Some cases of lèse majesté )
This petition – a Call for Solidarity
Thailand’s lèse majesté laws and articles are nothing more than an ugly set of instruments for de-railing democracy and sabotaging the aspirations of the people: legislation that has no place in the main-stream politics of the 21st century, even it continues to exist in some form.
The people of Thailand must be free to envision their understanding of sustainable development and express their thoughts and ideas about the need for socio-economic, political and cultural change.
In solidarity with the efforts of the ‘Article 112 Campaign’ that demands the right to debate Article 112, and with the 300 Thai writers that are urging the government to stop using Article 112 to suppress Freedom of Expression, and with the Santiprachatan Group of academics in their attempts to get Article 112 suspended pending reform, and in solidarity and full agreement with the ‘24 June Thai Democracy Group’ led by Somyot Pruksakemsuk (now in prison) – that has gathered 10 000 signatures from the grass-root movement demanding the abolition of Article 112, . .
. . this petition reaches out to all democratic sectors of the International Community – to all trade unions, women’s organisations and grass-root movements – to enable them to join hands with the real struggle for democracy in Thailand.
The petition is open for signing by organisations and individuals all around the world. The petition will remain open and on-going until all political prisoners in Thailand have been released and Article 112 has been abolished.
The sovereignty of Thailand rests in the hands of the people.
In solidarity with all who today stand behind bars, or live in fear of persecution, or in exile, because of their struggle to free themselves from the webs of corruption that limit and stifle their abilities to realise their full, democratic rights, and remembering the tens of thousands who have died in struggle for democracy since 1947 . .
We the undersigned call upon the Government of Thailand to . .
Drop all charges of lèse majesté
Free all LM and political prisoners
Abolish Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code.
Action for People’s Democracy in Thailand (ACT4DEM)
24 JUNE 2011
NOTE: From 1939, June 24th was Thailand’s Democracy Day, a national holiday, celebrating the arrival of democracy and marking the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. Democracy Day was abolished by Field-Marshal (PM) Sarit in 1960 concurrently with the launching of the King’s birthday as a national holiday on December 5th. Then, in 1980, General (PM) Prem Tinsulanonda turned the King’s birthday into Thailand’s Father’s Day.
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Total numbers of signatories.
16 April 2012