The content in this page ("Lessons from the latest political lawsuit of Sulak Sivaraksa" by Sulak Sivaraksa) is not produced by Prachatai staff. Prachatai merely provides a platform, and the opinions stated here do not necessarily reflect those of Prachatai.

Lessons from the latest political lawsuit of Sulak Sivaraksa

 
In 2016, two retired military officers, Lt. Gen. Padung Niwatwan and Lt. Gen. Pittaya Vimalin, filed a complaint against me at Chanasongkram Police Station after I took part as a speaker at a seminar on “Thai History: Construction and Deconstruction” run by the Dome Front Agora at Thammasat University on 5 October 2014. The two retired generals claimed that there were many words which violated Article 112 of the Criminal Code despite the fact that the seminar talked only of historical events; noticeably how I had questioned the existence of the elephant battle between King Naresuan, who reigned over Ayutthaya from 1590 to 1605, and the Burmese Uparaja. I had asked the audience to also refer to evidence from Burma without believing only in the Thai royal historical records. At the same time, I confirmed that King Rama IV (reigned from 1851 to 1868) did not forge the Ramkhamhaeng stone inscription as some modern Thai and foreign sources have accused.
 
The inquiry officer at Chanasongkram Police Station even said that I had protected King Rama IV. However, on 5 October 2017 Chanasongkram Police Station sent the complaint to the Bangkok military court prosecutor. Initially, I was called in to hear whether the charges were to be filed with the military court or not by the Bangkok military court prosecutor on 7 December 2017, but it was postponed to 17 January 2018. Eventually, this was where the lawsuit ended.
 
Sulak Sivaraksa received the certificate of an honorary doctorate in philosophy from King Vajiralongkorn on 1 December 2017 at Thammasat University
 
This lawsuit spurred a high level of political activity, especially important figures from various nations that support liberty and democracy, as well as several international organizations such as PEN International, Amnesty International, the UN High Commission for Human Rights, etc. The recipients of the Right Livelihood Award, also called the Alternative Nobel Prize, repeatedly sent words of protest to the Thai government, but the junta seemed to not care. Even in Thailand, people demanded that the Prime Minister and other important authorities end the case. If this lawsuit ended up in court, the government would lose more than it would gain; but the junta wasn’t courageous enough to make any decision.
 
I had no other choice so I petitioned His Majesty the King, who by His royal grace advised the government to end the lawsuit.
 
In a democracy under a constitutional monarchy, His Majesty may advise the government – His Majesty may support or protest against the government, as it is within the royal prerogative. I am immeasurably delighted that His Majesty advised the PM to end the lawsuit; it is a most grateful honour to receive His royal benevolence. 
 
A monarch would naturally be depended upon by those searching for justice in the nation. The important point is that, for most people, petitioning the King directly would be difficult – it would be difficult for the people to know whether their petition has reached His Majesty, or to know of the screening process.
 
Lawsuits concerning Article 112 of the Criminal Code are unreasonably numerous even though the late King explicitly stated that filing charges of royal defamation was equal to hurting His Majesty and was a way of destroying the royal institution. 
 
This Article clearly states that it protects the king, the queen, the heir apparent and the regent of the current reign only. There is a clear example in the early reign of King Rama IX when police filed charges against a newspaper for presenting inauspicious news of King Rama VIII, but when the lawsuit reached the Attorney General the King had already passed away. The Attorney General therefore could not make a prosecution; he explained that if we use this Article with past kings, we would not be able to teach history.
 
But then a verdict of the Supreme Court sentenced a defendant accused of defamation of King Rama IV, pointing out that King Rama IV is an ancestor of King Rama IX, even though the defendant’s words did not speak ill of His Majesty – he only spoke of how it is lucky for us to be born in the present reign, since our lives would be worse in the reign of King Rama IV when slavery still existed. 
 
This means that the court itself does not accurately know the law and also lacks compassion. We must not forget that Jitti Tingsapat, an important and revered lawyer and former privy councillor, warned that judges must interpret the law strictly and if in doubt should rule the defendant not guilty, and not interpret it broadly to a point that anything would be within the scope of lèse majesté – as Veera Musikapong was sentenced for lèse majesté. 
 
What is interesting is that the legal advisors working closely with the current government at this time do not realise that people who were sentenced under Article 112 should receive freedom after the king referred to in their cases has passed away. If the government has moral courage, they should announce the freedom of each person as a display of true loyalty towards His Majesty.
 
Unless amended, Article 112 of the Criminal Code has many problems. Anybody, including myself, may be charged at any time. If anyone accuses anyone, the police have to accept the case for fear of doing wrong. Therefore it should be clearly amended so that if a lèse majesté charge is made, there should be a committee to consider these charges first. This committee may be lawyers from the royal secretariat or even the Ministry of Justice under Her Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha since Her Highness is very interested in justice and concerned with the issue of overcrowded prisons.
 
I hope that all I’ve said will be discussed in a creative manner as it should be in a democracy, as well as appropriately respectful to the royal institution.