The draconian and controversial lese majeste law as well as the Computer Crimes Act ensures that freedom of expression regarding anything mildly critical of the monarchy institution could be punishable by heavy jail sentences. Thais who live outside the prison should rethink the nature of their ‘free’ society, however.
In a few ways, Thai society is like a gigantic but invisible prison of conscience for those who think differently about the monarchy. If you are a royalist, then there’s no problem whatsoever - you can heap as many lavish praises at the monarchy as you like. The situation is totally different if you are critical of the monarchy institution, however. Thais who are critical of the monarchy institution can feel that the mainstream mass media, almost without exception, feed them with one-sided information about the monarchy in a non-stop fashion – like a personality cult.
Access to books critical of the monarchy such as Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles is affected by the banning of such books. Distribution of CDs or DVDs of foreign news documentary programmes critical of the institution is also made illegal as one red-shirt vendor found it the hard way when he was arrested for selling a CD of a documentary produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation two years ago.
So basically Thais who are critical of the monarchy institution has to shut their mouth in public, have their eyes and ears closed through various form of censorship and self-censorship, or risk being charged under the lese majeste law and/or the Computer Crimes Act.
It is in this regard that one can perceive and feel that Thai society could indeed be akin to a large but invisible prison of conscience for those who think critically about the Thai monarchy. You can’t see this invisible prison but you can feel its restrictions when you try to test the limits – much like a glass ceiling.
In ordinary prison, one should only be sentenced to imprisonment after one is judged and found guilty of committing a crime. In the large and invisible prison that is Thai society, people who think critically about the monarchy have their speech and thought ‘imprisoned’ from birth, however. There is also no right to bail as one is stuck with the situation for the rest of his or her life. There is also no royal pardoning and one will have to live with one-sided and positive-only information about the monarchy in public sphere.
In a normal jail, your movement is restricted. In the large and invisible prison of conscience, your thought in public arena are restricted and curtailed, your access to information and writings critical of the monarchy institution are prohibited and made illegal. The only ‘crime’ these people are accused of and punished for is that of thinking critically about the monarchy.
The most disturbing fact, however, is that many ultra-royalists whom this writer encounters continue to insist that there is no censorship whatsoever in Thailand, despite the obvious existence of the draconian lese majeste law and Computer Crimes Act.
Be that as it may, as long as some Thais continue to be ‘imprisoned’ in this gigantic but invisible prison of conscience, they will likely continue to resist until they are free. This explains why the move to amend the lese majeste law is gaining momentum in Thailand despite all the threats and prosecutions against those who dare to think and speak differently about the Thai monarchy. These people are increasingly questioning why Thailand cannot treat critical remarks against its monarchy like other democratic societies like Japan, where there exists a monarchy but no lese majeste law, or like in the United Kingdom where the mass media can openly scrutinize and criticize its monarchy and yet the Queen and the House of Windsor manage to maintain a level of dignity.
So for all those Thais who think critically about the monarchy but feel that they can’t say what they think - have a Happy Prison Stay for the time being!