Opinion: Lese Majeste laws must be decriminalized

Jatupat “Pai Daodin” Boonpattararaksa spent two years and four months in jail just for sharing the BBC Thai’s biography of King Vajiralongkorn on his Facebook account.

He was only released in May 2019 and is now facing another lèse majesté charge. This time, it was for making speeches asking for the reformation of the royal institutions at pro-democracy rallies.

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, the former editor of the Voice of Taksin magazine, spent seven years in jail for an article he wrote about the royal family before he was released in 2018.

He is now facing another lèse majesté charge as well.

Including these two men, there are now 23 pro-democracy protest leaders and protestors being charged for violating Thailand’s lese majeste laws which carries a jail sentence of anywhere between three to 15 years.  

Aside from the sheer ridiculousness of the law, the Prayut administration is also looking to put three university students from Chulalongkorn University in jail just for reading out a statement that was not insulting to the royal institution at all.

For me, this is similar to the effort to put Bunkueanun “Francis” Paothon, a university student from Mahidol University International College, for allegedly infringing on the freedom of Her Majesty the Queen even though no such thing occurred.

If found guilty, Francis along with Ekkachai Hongkangwan and Suranat Paenprasert who was also charged with the same crime could be imprisoned for life.

For the sheer national embarrassment and the human rights infringements, I believe that the lese majeste laws should be immediately decriminalized because it is clear now that it can be used as a political tool by any government to get rid of dissidents.

It was the reason the university students were protesting on Thursday.

Other countries with a monarch as the Head of State also have such law but they do not use it because it could be seen as a royal interference in politics.

If this country is really under the constitutional monarchy system, this outdated law should be tweaked to lessen the penalty and a neutral committee should be set up to screen lèse majesté complaints before handing it to the police for possible prosecution.

If the law still exists as it is, there will be no safe space for people to talk about the institution that is supposed to co-exist with the people under the constitution and the rift within the society will continue to widen beyond repair.

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