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Both sides of the argument over lese majeste law

Supporters and opponents of amending the controversial lese majeste law are on a collision course. The Nation's Pravit Rojanaphruk asked Thammasat University anthropologist Yukti Mukdawijitra, representing the Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 (the lese majeste law) and Sukhothai Thammathiraj University law lecturer Komsan Pokong of the royalist Siam Prachapiwat group, four identical questions. Excerpts follow.

WHY IS THE ISSUE OF THE LESE MAJESTE LAW IMPORTANT?

Yukti: Because innocent people have been tried and there exists a lack of clarity in the letter of the law as to what constitutes malicious intent [towards the monarchy], which is very vaguely defined.

Trials also proceed under royalist-nationalist ideology and the institution is now above scrutiny. The rights of those charged are also not considered and anyone can just file a charge.

It also limits freedom of expression to criticise [the monarchy] honestly, which is [now] not possible. If we can't scrutinise the monarchy, the institution will decline and people will be in fear and distrust.

Komsan: First, in principle such laws exist in all countries to protect heads of state and the monarchy, which form part of the state's institutions.

Second, the lese majeste law exists to protect the monarchy institution, which is a monarchy institution within a democratic system.

CAN THERE BE A COMPROMISE BETWEEN THE TWO GROUPS?

Yukti: I don't think it's possible. Actually, our side is quite diverse and includes those who want to abolish the law, so the proposed amendment is already a compromise. Even a group of people of royal descent [led by Sumet Jumsai] have proposed that an amendment is needed.

Komsan: A compromise is rather difficult. The only possible compromise is that the Nitirat group [and the committee for amendment, which grew out of Nitirat] must provide academic information that is well rounded and identify the strengths and weaknesses of the law, and not distort things. Our group, on the other hand, aims to provide academic information.

WILL THE MATTER END WHEN THE CURRENT AMENDMENT MOVE SUCCEEDS OR FAILS?

Yukti: If the draft amendment reaches Parliament [after at least 10,000 signatures have been collected as required by the law], we shall stop. But we will also see how Parliament handles the matter.

The Campaign Committee wishes to see a multifaceted amendment and will monitor the matter.

Will the matter end if the move fails? We'll have to consider it. I still don't believe that any government MPs will discuss and earnestly consider [the proposed amendment] of the lese majeste law.

Komsan: I don't think it will be over, because it's not an academic matter. There's a political motive, and even if the other group fails they won't stop and will always seek an opportunity to make a move.

What they are doing now reflects an attempt to weaken the monarchy institution. Put simply, they are preparing flour to make bread. And even if they succeed [in amending the law] it won't be the end [for us]. We are an academic group and shall provide more academic information about the matter.

WHY SHOULD PEOPLE WHO DO NOT CURRENTLY SUPPORT YOUR GROUP BELIEVE IN YOU?

Yukti: The issue of lese majeste law is difficult. It's not just about reason, but also very much about emotion.

It's about faith in the institution and the King that began on October 14 [1973] and the various royal projects that eventually led to love for the institution in a way that's beyond reasoning.

It's difficult to convince society with just reasoning, and we have been accused of being republicans.

I would like to tell the group that clings to the monarchy in that fashion that their kind of faith in the monarchy leads to the institution not being scrutinised, and will lead the institution to drift away from the people and eventually become a tool for autocratic groups.

Things will be otherwise if we can debate issues relating to the institution.

Komsan: There is only one thing - open your heart and listen to various views. Before you believe in anything, you should examine the information you have.

Whether the lese majeste law will be amended or not should be the result of that deliberation.

Their proposal [to amend the law] is lunacy.

They want to reduce the monarchy to the status of ordinary citizens and greater protection [under current Thai law] would be provided to, among others, traffic police, judges, and heads of state such as Barack Obama.

They can't just say it's the responsibility of Parliament to bring other laws in line with the proposed amendment.

It's irresponsible to society. Their activities may continue to cause damage well into the time of our posterity.


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