Laws that lead to guf­faws

Bangkok Post - - OPINION -

In what ap­pears to be an at­tempt at law en­force­ment, au­thor­i­ties in the past two weeks have taken le­gal ac­tion against two prom­i­nent pub­lic fig­ures by re­sort­ing to what ap­pears to be a mis­use of both the law and its prin­ci­ples. Lese ma­jeste charges against so­cial critic Su­lak Si­varaksa and ousted premier Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra, along with the retroac­tive ap­pli­ca­tion of a law against Thaksin, will not only put the Thai jus­tice sys­tem un­der the global spot­light but will also jeop­ar­dise law en­force­ment in the coun­try.

Worse still, they will set bad prece­dents and put the pub­lic at risk of be­ing sub­ject to such forms of law en­force­ment.

The po­lice on Mon­day brought Mr Su­lak, an 85-yearold in­ter­na­tion­ally re­spected fig­ure, to a mil­i­tary court in Bangkok to face charges of vi­o­lat­ing the lese ma­jeste law and the Com­puter Crime Act for his re­mark at a sem­i­nar three years ago.

While the lese majesty law, or Sec­tion 112 of the Crim­i­nal Code, pro­vides pro­tec­tion for liv­ing mem­bers of the royal fam­ily, the po­lice charged him for of­fend­ing King Nare­suan in 1593, who reigned over 400 years ago.

The grounds for their charges were noth­ing more than Mr Su­lak’s ques­tion­ing of the his­tor­i­cal ac­count of King Nare­suan’s duel with a Burmese prince.

How­ever, Mr Su­lak was just ex­press­ing his opin­ion over a page of his­tory. The lese ma­jeste law, which says “who­ever de­fames, in­sults or threat­ens the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne or the Re­gent shall be pun­ished with im­pris­on­ment of three to 15 years”, does not ex­tend its le­gal­ity to pro­tect his­tor­i­cal monar­chs.

On Dec 7, the mil­i­tary pros­e­cu­tors will de­cide whether to pros­e­cute the so­cial critic.

The po­lice’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the law is wor­ri­some and has prompted ques­tions about how far such a law should be ap­plied. If Mr Su­lak is in­dicted, it would cre­ate a chill­ing cli­mate of fear and hurt the cred­i­bil­ity of Thai­land’s jus­tice sys­tem. Any­one can be sub­ject to sim­i­lar charges as the bound­ary of the law can be un­ex­pect­edly broad­ened un­der the sole dis­cre­tion of au­thor­i­ties.

Com­pared to just a few cases a decade be­fore the 2006 coup that ousted the Thaksin gov­ern­ment, there has been a surge in lese ma­jeste suits against in­di­vid­u­als since the putsch. More of­ten, it is abused as a po­lit­i­cal tool in cleans­ing or tak­ing re­venge on in­di­vid­u­als or po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

Thaksin him­self has not been not spared. On Oct 6, At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Khem­chai Chuti­wongs re­vealed that his of­fice de­cided to in­dict the fugi­tive politi­cian on lese ma­jeste and com­puter crime of­fences for his in­ter­view with the Cho­sun Ilbo news­pa­per in Seoul in May 2015. In that in­ter­view, Thaksin re­port­edly linked privy coun­cil­lors to the 2014 coup.

Sim­i­lar to the charges against Mr Su­lak, pros­e­cu­tors have broad­ened the con­text of the lese ma­jeste law even though it does not ex­tend such pro­tec­tion to any privy coun­cil­lors.

Mean­while, pub­lic pros­e­cu­tors and the Na­tional An­tiCor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion have made the same de­ci­sion to re­sume two sus­pended crim­i­nal cases against Thaksin. The first one in­volves his then-gov­ern­ment’s grant­ing of a 4-bil­lion-baht soft loan to Myan­mar, which sub­se­quently ben­e­fited his fam­ily’s telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion busi­ness. The sec­ond re­lates to the “un­law­ful” im­ple­men­ta­tion of the twoand three-digit lot­tery scheme.

In their con­sid­er­a­tion, the au­thor­i­ties cite a new or­ganic law on crim­i­nal pro­ce­dures for po­lit­i­cal of­fice hold­ers, which took ef­fect on Sept 29. The law al­lows for the trial of the fugi­tive politi­cian to be held in ab­sen­tia and to be ap­plied retroac­tively.

But this retroac­tive ap­pli­ca­tion con­tra­dicts the uni­ver­sal prin­ci­ple of law. The de­ci­sion to use it against the for­mer premier will make the coun­try’s rule of law a global laugh­ing stock.

In pro­ceed­ing le­gal ac­tions against the two men, the au­thor­i­ties must re­alise any abuses of the law can set bad prece­dents with a far-reach­ing im­pact on Thai cit­i­zens.

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