Sulak Sivaraksa, a renowned loyalist and critic of the lèse majesté law, has condemned the suppression of freedom of expression, especially the use of the lèse majesté law to arrest and threaten civilians, academics and artists, saying the more despotic the regime is, the more people are being hunted for expressing their thoughts, while the junta leader on Friday defended the use of the draconian law.
Sulak said the recent coup affected the monarchy and that the coup junta is using Article 112 or the lèse majesté law to suppress freedom for its own benefit.
“Article 112 or lèse majesté has always been used by the military, Yingluck Shinawatra, her brother’s government, Abhisit’s government to persecute people because this law gives tremendous power to the authorities,” said Sulak in a video interview
released on Friday by the Resurgent Truth, an underground media group.
Sulak compares the hunt for people who defame the king with ‘witch hunts’ and said that hunting down those who defame the monarchy is how the military regime has created a climate of fear.
“Witch hunts would put freedom of expression at risk, no matter if it’s a stage play or other forms of art. In Burma, many comedians and cartoonists were arrested because of this. Now, Thailand is following Burma’s footsteps, we are swapping paths” said Sulak.
The 22 May coup marked the highest number of lèse majesté prisoners in Thai history. Since the coup, 15 people have been charged under Article 112 or the lèse majesté law. Of those, 12 are currently detained in prison.This adds to the number of those charged before the coup to a total number of 18 people facing lèse majesté charges, and 18 were in jail.
Sulak also raised concerns about the use of the law to suppress artists.
Two theatre artists have been charged under Article 112 for their involvement in a stage play centred on a fictional monarch. In June, the junta summoned about ten activists just in the hunt for people involved in the play. Various human rights organizations, including in the US, have expressed “serious concerns” over the arrest of the two artists.
Meanwhile, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, the junta leader, speaking on his weekly TV program on Friday, defended prosecutions under the law in order to protect the King.
“We have a law that normally applies to everyone equally to protect our monarchy. People have to understand that our monarchy is above politics and above everything, but people might aim to ruin his reputation, so we have to be on our guard and make others understand as well,” said Prayuth.
Thai authorities have equated the stability of the monarchy with the stability of the nation. Defendants in lèse majesté cases are rarely granted bail. The court tends to interpret the law to cover ambiguous speeches. The junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) ordered after the coup that any case under Article 112 must be tried in a military court.