The Criminal Court on Thursday acquitted a 65-year-old vendor of a charge of lèse majesté. He had been arrested for selling the banned book ‘The Devil’s Discus’ at yellow shirt rallies in 2006.
The Court ruled that the book had content defaming the King, and the writer, Rayne Kruger, intended to insult the King. The Court, however, acquitted the defendant U. (name withheld due to privacy concerns) because the prosecutors failed to prove that the defendant had the knowledge that the book had lèse majesté content.
The book, written by English-South African author Rayne Kruger and published in 1964, was declared illegal by the Thai authorities in 2006. It was translated into Thai by Chalit Chaisithiwet and a Thai version was published in 1974. According to Wikipedia, as soon as the book was published, it was banned in Thailand and Kruger was also banned from further entry to Thailand.
According to the accusation, there are six sections in the book which constitute lèse majesté. The six sections are the author’s presentation of “theories” about the cause of the former King’s death which involve the current King. The author concluded that the former King was likely to have committed suicide because his relationship with a foreign woman was unacceptable.
Defendant U. on the left walks with his lawyers after learning the verdict.
The 65-year-old defendant is a book seller who normally set up a temporary book stall at events and street markets. He was arrested when selling books at a People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) gathering at Lumpini Park on May 2, 2006.
The police arrested him and confiscated a copy of the book and also a copy of the Same Sky journal, the “Monarchy and Thai society” issue of Oct-Dec 2005 (the Coca Cola issue). The two works were banned under the now-abolished Printing Act. The Public Prosecutor, however, only pressed charges for selling ‘The Devil’s Discus’.
The judge said that even though the book concluded that King Rama VIII committed suicide and did not involve the current King, the younger brother of King Rama VIII, it still unnecessarily mentioned King Bhumibol, which may cause misunderstanding among readers. Therefore, the writer had the intention to defame the King and the book was deemed lèse majesté, the judge concluded.
During the secret trial, the prosecutors brought a number of witnesses, including Thongthong Chandrangsu, an expert on monarchical ceremonies and Permanent Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office, to testify whether they felt the book constituted lèse majesté. All of the prosecution witnesses, although admitting they only read the six excerpts of the book selected by the police, and had never read the whole book, said they considered the book lèse majesté. Meanwhile, the defence witness, Sulak Sivaraksa, a renowned royalist and Article 112 critic, said he had finished the book, both in the original English version and the Thai translation, said that when reading in its entirety, it did not necessarily lead the reader to have a defamatory attitude toward the current King.
Covers of the Devil's Discus in English and the in Thai. Photo Courtesy of New Mandala and FACTHAI
Yingcheep Atchanont, one of the defendant’s lawyers, said the ruling created a new standard in Article 112 cases. The ruling means that a single line in a book can alone determine that the whole book constitutes lèse majesté without consideration of the writer’s intention from reading the whole book.
Although in the end the defendant has been freed, the ruling sent a message that discussion of King Ananda’s death might land a person in jail for lèse majesté.
Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code is one of the harshest lèse majesté laws in the world. It stipulates that "whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years."
Critics of the law say it is abused as a political tool and severely limits freedom of expression.