Published on October 11, 2007
Fundamentally, it contradicts the constitutional principle that every citizen is equal under the same laws. But Thailand has allowed this contradiction to survive by dubious legal mechanisms and precedents.
The more serious problem for years, moreover, is the continuing abuse of this law for political purposes because the law allows anybody to accuse anybody else of violating the lese majeste principle. Unlike the defamation law, in which only the injured party can bring charges, lese majeste has become an easy political weapon.
As damage is done to the accused regardless of the legal process or outcome, most of the cases are dismissed and never go to trial. Lese majeste has been used as a thoughtless, political "cheap shot", instead of being handled with the utmost care and thoughtfulness.
The proposed amendment violates legal principles and traditions in many respects, and may aggravate the abuses even further.
First of all, the amendment would elevate a small group of citizens, including non-royals, above other citizens. It is a dangerous precedent, as there could be more laws enacted that would create a more privileged class of "firsts among equals".
The hierarchical classes in the same society would be formalised and codified by laws even further, rather than becoming more democratised.
Secondly, in doing the above, not only does this mean that some citizens may become legally elevated above others, but it also grants a few people the privileges and status of near-royalty. This is a blunt affront to the monarchy, to tradition and to every known modern and democratic tenet.
The amendment bill may be in breach of lese majeste itself.
Thirdly, in the modern world - in which everybody on earth has particular material interests, both politically and economically - transparency and accountability are needed more than ever. The amendment goes in the opposite direction, namely to provide secrecy and unaccountability for people with high position and responsibility.
Imagine if such a person did something that injured the reputation and status of the monarchy, he would still be protected by the amended lese majeste law. In other words, his violation of lese majeste could not be punished, thanks to the amended lese majeste law.
Fourthly, the abuse of the amended lese majeste law by privileged people and their servants, for their own interests, would be protected by the lese majeste law. The eventual consequences for the monarchy could be enormous and dangerous beyond our imagination.
Fifth, what is the purpose of prohibiting the media from reporting on cases of lese majeste? Is it to protect the monarchy or to intimidate the media; to prevent them from informing the public about abuses committed under the lese majeste law? Those media professionals in the National Legislative Assembly who supported the amendment bill should be ashamed of themselves for betraying their colleagues and the public.
Last but not least, the intention of the amendment this time itself is also an abuse of the lese majeste law, namely in providing protection to particular individuals in the current political conflict. It is a bad legal amendment from the start.
In the end, if the amendment bill is passed, the revised lese majeste law will certainly increase the number of violations, the number of political cheap shots. Similarly, the number of court cases will put the monarchical institution in the spotlights even more. It will result in special privileges for many people, including non-royals, who act above the public interests and who do not deserve special protection above the law.
Yet they cannot be punished, even when they do harm to the monarchy.
Lessons from all over the world suggest how such unusual privileges eventually led to public dissatisfaction and turmoil.
The lese majeste law has done more harm than good to the monarchy. The amended one would do even more harm.
The proposed amendment is reckless. Despite its withdrawal, the idea and effort behind it should be condemned.
We must not let it be revived again.
Thongchai Winichakul is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.