Update: Thammasat to Allow Nitirat Group to Meet, Nation Reports

The Nation has an update today on the Thammasat University-lèse-majesté issue:

The executive committee of Thammasat University Monday decided to allow campaigns for amendment of Article 112 of the Criminal Court to resume in its campus.

Previous posts on this topic are under the lèse-majesté tag.

(All emphasis mine.)

Thammasat Univ. Rector Says He’ll Ask for Rethink on Ban

2012 02 06 tu lm

Yet more on Thammasat, lèse-majesté, and the Nitirat Group:

Today’s Bangkok Post reports:

Thammasat University’s executive committee will reconsider its decision to prohibit the use of the campus for activities related to the lese majeste law.

Thammasat rector Somkit Lertpaithoon said he will ask executives to reconsider the decision to prohibit such activities on the grounds as the issue has widened divisions at the university.

Mr Somkit said he will propose a rethink on the ban at a meeting of the university executives on Feb 13.

The ban resulted from a campaign by the Nitirat group, a gathering of academics seeking an amendment to Article 112 of the Criminal Code, better known as the lese majeste law.

This movement has drawn significant opposition, leading the university to ban all campaigning relating to Article 112, by Nitirat or others, on its grounds, for fear violence could erupt between those opposed to the law and those seeking to keep it.

But critics of the ban say it is violating freedom of expression.

Nearly 200 protesters, including students, turned up at Thammasat University yesterday in opposition to the ban.

Meanwhile, the Post says Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha weighed in on the Nitirat group today:

The group of seven Thammasat law professors, known as the Nitirat (enlightened jurists), should stop calling for a change in the lese majeste law, national army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said Monday.

“I don’t understand their objective, because when a law is violated officials have to take legal action, without any exceptions, and the process is all in line with legal procedure,” Gen Prayuth said.

He called on Nitirat not to put the monarchy in the middle of “the conflict” because the monarchy is above it.

“The monarchy is not the person who will accuse anyone. If a person made a mistake, His Majesty the King can still grant a royal pardon,” said the army chief.

He said offenders could not make the excuse that they did not know the law, or had no bad intentions.

“I want to ask the Nitirat academics this – if someone curses at their guardians, parents or relatives, would they accept it?

“Thai society cannot continue to exist if we let people violate the defamation law, and as a Thai person I don’t want to see more damage to the country.

“I ask the Nitirat to stop their movement and stop linking the army with everything,” Gen Prayuth said.

You can find previous posts on the Thammasat issue under the lèse-majesté tag.

(All emphasis mine.)

(Image: Bangkok Post.)

Yet More on Thammasat Univ. and Lèse-majesté

2012 02 03 thammasat lm

To follow up on my last two posts:

The Thammasat Univ. lèse-majesté/free expression issue continues to make headlines here in Thailand and abroad.

Today’s Bangkok Post reports:

Students, alumni members and lecturers at Thammasat University remain divided over the use of its main campus as a venue for the Nitirat group to engineer a campaign to amend the controversial lese majeste law.

More than 200 current and former student members of the Journalism and Mass Communication Faculty staged a rally against Nitirat at the Tha Phrachan campus. Students and lecturers from other faculties and supporters joined in the demonstration.

They were countered by a group of students who gathered at Thammasat’s Rangsit campus in Pathum Thani who oppose the ban on Nitirat. The group will hold a rally at Tha Phrachan campus on Sunday.

More on the protesting journalism students, some of whom are pictured above: the Post said yesterday:

A group of former and present students of the faculty of journalism and mass communication at Thammasat University on Thursday submitted a letter to the university rector to investigate and take legal and disciplinary action against the lecturers comprising the Nitirat group.

They called during a rally for members of the Thammsat community to oppose Nitirat’s proposal for the amendment of Section 112 of the Criminal Code, for the university to launch a legal and disciplinary investigation of the seven law lecturers, for the mass media to exercise discretion in presenting information on the proposed amendment, and for people in all walks of life to oppose any move deemed insulting to the monarchy.

Elsewhere in the Post today, scholar Thitinan Pongsudhirak looks at Thai identity and puts the Nitirat campaign in historical context:

The Nitirat campaign to amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code, commonly known as the lese majeste law, has generated a political tempest.

It has struck a consonant chord as much as it has riled apprehensive nerves of reformers and conservatives on both sides of the political fault line centring on the monarchy’s role in Thai democracy.

Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported yesterday that:

American linguist Noam Chomsky, Princeton University professor Cornell West and 221 other foreign scholars have urged Thailand’s prime minister to revise laws that shield the country’s monarchy from criticism, lending their voice to a controversial campaign.

In a letter seen on Thursday and sent to Yingluck Shinawatra a day earlier, the mostly U.S. and European academics backed the campaign by seven Thai university lecturers to amend the world’s toughest lese-majeste laws, which they said had become “a powerful tool to silence political dissent”.

(All emphasis mine.)

(Image: Bangkok Post.)

More on Thammasat, Lèse-majesté, and Free Speech

2012 02 01 anti 112

A follow up on my post yesterday about Thammasat Univ. banning a group of its lecturers from meeting on campus to discuss amending Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws.

The Bangkok Post reports today:

Thammasat University’s decision to bar the Nitirat group from using its campuses for activities related to the lese majeste law has sparked a fierce debate over its stance on freedom of expression.

Thammasat rector Somkit Lertpaithoon yesterday defended the university executive committee’s decision.

In a message posted on his Facebook page, he said the ban was intended to prevent any incidents which could escalate into violence such as the massacre of left-wing students at Thammasat’s Bangkok campus on Oct 6, 1976.

“Many people have expressed disagreement with my decision to prohibit the Nitirat group from campaigning against Section 112 at the university,” he posted. “This could be seen as a restriction on free speech. This is understandable.

“But I want you to look at another angle. University executives had to enact this measure out of worry that the situation could escalate into a second Oct 6.”

The Post also has an op-ed today headlined “Democracy demands debate on lese majeste law.” The author is Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political scientist at Ubon Ratchathani University. A snip:

Thailand will inevitably have to learn one way or another, to fully accept a founding principle of democracy, which is freedom of speech and expression. No country can claim to have negotiated the road to democracy while continuing to pick and choose as and when such democratic principles suit prevailing domestic interests.

The Nation has more in a story. A snip:

Several groups of students put up posters on the campus’ buildings against the decision. They also plan to place wreaths to oppose the decision at Puay Ungpakorn’s statue on the Rangsit campus tomorrow and at Pridi Banomyong’s statue on the main Prachan campus on Sunday.

There’s also this Nation editorial calling for tolerance on all sides:

Thailand cannot emerge from its political stalemate and develop its democratic institutions unless people have respect for opponents’ opinions

(All emphasis mine.)

(Image: Bangkok Post.)

Thammasat Bans Lèse-majesté-Related Gatherings on Campus

Today’s Bangkok Post reports:

Thammasat University has banned the use of the university’s compound as a venue for any activities related to the lese majeste law.

The move came amid growing public discontent against the Nitirat group, comprising seven Thammasat law lecturers, which has proposed an amendment to Section 112 of the Criminal Code, better known as the lese majeste law, and a rewrite of Chapter 2 of the constitution, which covers the monarchy.

Since its establishment in September 2010, Nitirat’s activities have mainly been held at Thammasat’s Tha Phrachan campus in Phra Nakhon district.

“The university’s executive committee has resolved unanimously to prohibit the use of the university’s premises for any movement related to Section 112,” Thammasat rector Somkit Lertpaithoon wrote in a message posted on his Facebook page yesterday.

Allowing such activities to take place on the university’s grounds could lead the public to mistakenly believe that Thammasat organises or agrees with the movement, he said.

“Moreover, it could trigger violent confrontations on the premises,” he said.

The Nation has more.

(All emphasis mine.)

NYT on Thailand and Lèse-Majesté

More on the issue of Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws, which I mentioned in my last two posts: The New York Times has a story today summing up the situation:

At the entrance to a neighborhood in Bangkok’s garment district, residents have posted an unambiguous message on an archway decorated with an image of Thailand’s king.

“If you live in Thailand, you must be loyal,” reads a sign prominently suspended over the road. “If you are not loyal, you are not Thai.”

Thailand has always stood out for the deference that many Thais openly show toward their monarch. But in the twilight of the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 84, now weakened and living in a specially outfitted suite in a Bangkok hospital, dedicated loyalists are leading a feverish, with-us-or-against-us campaign to defend him. At the same time, the government has intensified a crackdown on criticism of the monarchy, prosecuting a record number of people charged with royal insults.

Passions over the monarchy have escalated to the point where some Thais say they fear the situation could turn violent.

“We have reached a stage where people would want to drive you out of the country or even want to kill you for having different thoughts,” said Anon Numpa, a lawyer who represents a dozen clients accused of royal insults.

The royalists say they feel under attack, most recently from outside the country. On the Internet, thousands of Thais have posted angry comments on the U.S. Embassy’s Facebook page since a Thai-born U.S. citizen was convicted of insulting the king.

Worth a read.

(All emphasis mine.)

Yesterday’s Royalist Protest at U.S. Embassy

To follow up on my post regarding recent discussion of Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws, I wanted to share this Bloomberg story from yesterday:

Hundreds of Thai royalists called for U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney to “get out” of the country after a State Department official questioned the conviction of an American for insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Siam Samakkhi, which means United Siam, submitted letters to the UN and U.S. today urging them to avoid commenting on the lese-majeste law, group member Tul Sitthisomwong said. About 200 members of the organization, waving royal flags and holding pictures of King Bhumibol, shouted “Kristie get out!” in front of the embassy in Bangkok today.

Worth a read.

Elsewhere, VOA has a story and some photos.

And there’s more from the Bangkok Post.

Thailand’s Lèse-Majesté Laws: Very Much in the News

Just a quick note to point out that Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws, which make it illegal to insult the royal family, are very much in the news these days.

Here’s a cell phone photo of today’s Bangkok Post front page:

Photo 4

The main story seen above — “Royalists step into lese majeste row” — says:

The controversy over Article 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lese majeste law, is heating up with royalist group Siam Samakkhi (United Siam) deploring the UN, the US and the European Union for “attempting to interfere” in the country’s judicial system.

The group said the critics lacked understanding of the constitutional monarchy after they called for reforms of the lese majeste law.

The international community appears troubled by recent court rulings in two lese majeste cases. It says they are inconsistent with international standards of freedom of expression.

Siam Samakkhi said criticism of the lese majeste law is based on partial information and a lack of understanding about the consequences of violating the lese majeste law.

And today’s Nation reports:

The US Embassy in Bangkok got a taste of sorts of the “freedom of expression” medicine after Thai political rivals faced off with plenty of obscenities on its Facebook page over the past few days.

With some comments disappearing from the Facebook page yesterday, questions were asked if the embassy really adheres to the democratic principles it preaches. In a reply to a Twitter user, American Ambassador Kristie Kenny said, “As you know, we welcome a vibrant exchange of views. Just ask that it be kept civilised and respectful of all involved”.

A U.S. Embassy statement today notes:

This message is to alert you that on Friday, December 16th, a large group—possibly as many as 1200 people—will gather in front of the U.S. Embassy on Wireless Road. The exact time of the demonstration is unknown, but most of the demonstrators are expected to arrive between 1300 and 1600 hours.

(All emphasis mine.)

More soon on the topic of lèse-majesté, I’m sure. But I wanted to share these links for now.

U.S. Citizen Gets Two-and-a-Half Year Jail Sentence for Insulting Thai King

The AP reports:

An American who translated a banned biography of Thailand’s king and posted the content online while living in Colorado was sentenced to two and a half years in a Thai prison Thursday for defaming the country’s royal family.

The verdict is the latest so-called lese majeste punishment handed down in the Southeast Asian kingdom, which has come under increasing pressure at home and abroad to reform harsh legislation that critics say is an affront to freedom of expression.

The 55-year-old Thai-born American, Joe Gordon, stood calmly with his ankles shackled in an orange prison uniform as the sentence was read out at a Bangkok criminal court.

The New York Times says:

A Thai court on Thursday sentenced a U.S. citizen to two and a half years in prison for insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the latest case in the government’s crackdown on criticism of the monarchy.

Joe Gordon, who was born in Thailand but has lived in the United States for the past three decades, was convicted of translating and posting to the Internet portions of a book, “The King Never Smiles,” which is published by Yale University Press and banned in Thailand.

The BBC has a short video and a text story:

Thailand has jailed a US citizen for two and a half years after he admitted posting web links to a banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Joe Gordon, a used car salesman from Colorado who was born in Thailand, admitted lese-majeste, or insulting the king, at an earlier hearing.

Thai government: “Liking” or “Sharing” on Facebook Could be a Crime

A quick follow-up on my post yesterday about Thailand’s latest lèse-majesté case, in which a man has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for sending SMS messages deemed offensive to monarchy:

Today’s Bangkok Post reports:

People who press “share” or “like” buttons on Facebook in response to lese majeste-related content can violate the Computer Crime Act, Information and Communication Technology Minister Anudith Nakornthap has warned.

Although the clicks were only aimed at showing support for people who posted messages or to oppose the ill-intentioned messages, they could be considered an infraction of the law, the minister said.

The information and photos of on-line participants in such topics can be exploited by web operators who can reuse them in making “fake Facebook” pages, said Capt Anudith.

The Facebook users will then become supporters of a group or network that offend the monarch.

He advised people who pressed those buttons in Facebook to delete all their reactions and comments.

“If they don’t delete them, they can end up violating the Computer Crime Act for indirectly distributing inappropriate content,” Capt Anudith said.

(All emphasis mine.)

Meanwhile, AFP says today:

Thailand has asked Facebook to delete more than 10,000 pages which it that are “offensive” to its monarchy.

The news came a day after a Thai court jailed a man for 20 years for sending four text messages deemed insulting to the monarchy, alarming critics who say the kingdom’s strict lese-majeste laws hamper free speech.

“We have informed Facebook and sought their assistance in deleting content which is offensive to our monarchy,” the country’s information minister Anudith Nakornthap said.

Back in 2007, of course, the government blocked YouTube in Thailand due to content that ran afoul of lèse-majesté laws.

Question: Would the Thai government consider blocking Facebook in Thailand if the company doesn’t remove the material?