Thai police summoned a Thammasat University history lecturer and two student activists to testify on the lèse majesté accusation against the renowned royalist and lèse majesté law critic Sulak Sivaraksa in relation to Sulak’s speech on an ancient king, saying the use of lèse majesté in Thailand is an obstacle to Thai history lessons.
Phiphat Krachaechan, a history lecturer at Thammasat University, on Wednesday revealed to Prachatai that he had refused to cooperate with the police in testifying on the lèse majesté complaint against Sulak after the police summoned him because he was also one of the speakers.
However, according to Matichon Online
, the lecturer posted on his Facebook profile on Thursday after a discussion with the police that he and the two students who organized the seminar will go to Chanasongkram Police Station on 7 January 2015.
Sulak was accused of defaming King Naresuan, an ancient king of the Ayutthaya Kingdom who reigned about 400 years ago, by raising doubts at the seminar on Thai history about the historical battle between the ancient Thai king and a Burmese general. The seminar was organised by Dome Front Agora, a student group based at Thammasat University on 5 October.
Phipat told Prachatai that he told the police that he was merely one of the panelists at the seminar and that the organizers had already asked the police for prior permission to hold the seminar. “There is no reason for me to testify,” said Phiphat.
He further pointed out that the use of Article 112 of the Criminal Code or the lèse majesté law in Thailand is a major obstacle for history lessons.
“The centre of Thai history lessons taught at present is the [monarchy] institution. If we can’t even say the truth about what happened in history and can’t voice or discuss contradicting primary sources of history, then the history lesson is only for memorizing the mainstream nationalist version of history. This is not the principle of history, which is a subject in which there is a space for debate over the relevance of different sources to seek the truth. Therefore, the use of Article 112 of the Criminal Code is an obstruction to knowledge in history,” Phiphat told Prachatai.
He added, “Philosophically, history teaches people to use logic and how to weigh different evidence with logic to seek the truth, but here in Thailand history has been used as a political tool. There is no intellectual value in this. It’s more to do with how one group of people use it to claim legitimacy and to justify certain actions done to other groups of people”.
Phiphat also mentioned during the interview that the problems of Thai history lessons are partially the results of rote learning, which teaches students to memorize, but not question, and the ultra-royalist environment in society.
“Our society was led to believe that members of the [monarchy] institution are like demi-gods and something sacred. Moreover, the [monarchy] institution is a part of nationalism which was constructed under the reign of Rama V and VI. Therefore, it is a sacred area that people can’t touch,” said the historian.
The lèse majesté complaint against Sulak was filed by Lt. Gen. Padung Niwatwan on 17 October. Sulak is also accused of defaming King Rama IV during the same seminar.
Suluck Sivaraksa told Prachatai in a video interview that Article 112 is only for the protection of the present monarch, the Queen and the Crown Prince
The notorious lèse majesté law or Article 112 of the Criminal Code clearly states "Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, Heir-apparent or Regent shall be punished (with) imprisonment of three to fifteen years."
This is the second lèse majesté case related to a past monarch. In late 2013, the Supreme Court handed out a landmark verdict in a lèse majesté case in which the defendant was found guilty of defaming King Rama IV, who reigned between 1851 and 1868, surprising lawyers and academics who have always understood that the law does not cover former kings.
“If you follow that judgement of the Supreme Court, you can’t write history,” said Sulak, “which is ridiculous.”