Laws that lead to guffaws
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.