Thai court post­pones lese ma­jeste trial against aca­demic

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Asean Focus -

A THAI mil­i­tary court on Thurs­day de­layed a de­ci­sion on whether to pros­e­cute a prom­i­nent his­to­rian and so­cial critic who sug­gested that a famed duel on ele­phant-back won by a Thai king against a Burmese prince 500 years ago may not ac­tu­ally have hap­pened.

The 84-year-old Su­lak Si­varaksa was charged by po­lice last Oc­to­ber un­der the coun­try’s dra­co­nian lese ma­jeste law that pro­tects the monar­chy from li­bel and defama­tion.

The mil­i­tary court on Thurs­day agreed with Su­lak’s re­quest to hear views from ex­perts and his­to­ri­ans and set a new hear­ing for Jan­uary 17.

Su­lak told re­porters out­side the court that “to live in this coun­try you must have a sense of hu­mour be­cause my case is non­sen­si­cal.” He said it would be im­pos­si­ble for Thais to learn his­tory if it is il­le­gal to com­ment on King Narae­suan, who led the fa­mous 1593 bat­tle that is cel­e­brated as a na­tional hol­i­day.

The case stems from re­marks Su­lak made in 2014 when he urged a uni­ver­sity sem­i­nar to think crit­i­cally about Thai his­tory.

Thai­land’s lese ma­jeste law is the harsh­est in the world, pun­ish­able by three to 15 years in prison. The law, in writ­ing, only pro­tects the king, queen, and heir ap­par­ent, and doesn’t ap­pear to men­tion dead mon­archs, but in prac­tice the rules are more widely in­ter­preted.

The rul­ing mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment has pur­sued over 250 lese ma­jeste cases since it seized power in a 2014 coup, more than any pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment in the past decade, ac­cord­ing to Thai news­pa­per Prachatai. The law has been widely crit­i­cised in­clud­ing by rights groups and the UN, which has called for it to be re­voked.

“The junta’s abu­sive use of the lese ma­jeste law has reached a new height of ab­sur­dity when a prom­i­nent scholar is charged with a crim­i­nal of­fense for ques­tion­ing the oc­cur­rence of a 16th-cen­tury bat­tle,” said Brad Adams, Asia direc­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch. “Aca­demic free­dom and free speech in Thai­land will suf­fer dev­as­tat­ing blows if the trial against Su­lak pro­ceeds.”

Su­lak is a well-known aca­demic and pro­claimed roy­al­ist but an out­spo­ken critic of the lese ma­jeste law. He has pre­vi­ously faced at least five lese ma­jeste charges.

Bri­tish writer and his­to­rian Chris Baker said there are at least 10 dif­fer­ent ac­counts of the ele­phant bat­tle told in Thai, Burmese and French.

“There is no de­fin­i­tive ac­count. There are var­i­ous dif­fer­ent ac­counts and his­to­ri­ans ac­cept that per­haps we don’t ac­tu­ally know what hap­pened,” Baker said. “There are just many dif­fer­ent sto­ries told about an event that seems to have been very ex­cit­ing.” – As­so­ci­ated Press

Su­lak Si­varaksa pauses out­side a mil­i­tary court in Bangkok, Thai­land, on Thurs­day as he ar­rives to find out whether the mil­i­tary will pro­ceed with a lese ma­jeste in­dict­ment against him. Photo: AP

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