Rise in cases 'tied to power struggle'

national February 05, 2012 00:00

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Kittisak Prokkati, a lecturer at Thammasat University's Faculty of Law, called for Parliament to approve the appointment of monarchs in the future during an interview in which he gave his perspectives on the Nitirat group's proposals involving changes t

Your article ‘Nitirat thinks differently – please listen to them’ sounds as if your are telling the public to take up the Nitirat proposals.

It is about freedom of expression. It is like you want to do house improvement – you have the right since it is your house. But it has to be done under the law. Nitirat may express views that make people think they are arrogant but, as long as they have not crossed the line, or made any threat or assaulted anybody, they can do it, but it does not mean everyone has to agree with them.
In Thai society people do not want to talk about section 112. It is as if they are being censured.
You cannot censure because even the papers like The Nation, Matichon, Prachathai still run articles on the issue. In my opinion, the best way to worship the monarchy is to let them stay close to the people and belong to the people. The monarchy should be Dharma or virtues in human form. Our religion bans us from insulting others and even insulting the monarchy. We do not like anyone to insult our monarchy. Nitirat does not say that we must remove the monarchy system but only to brush up the outdated law; first, reduce the heavy penalty of 3-15 years [for lese majeste offences]; second, suspects of lese majeste charges who claim they are being used as political tools to sabotage political enemies should be given rights to defend themselves.
In what perspectives should we look at the monarchy? 
First we have to look at the cultural dimension. The monarchy is an institution that has become [part of] the country’s culture. For instance, while everyone is crazy about getting expensive imported dogs, the King brought Thong Daeng into the public [eye] and said this is a street dog. This is a cultural balance, through his good deeds and action as an example to counter an extravagant lifestyle. Looking at the political dimension, since the monarch and his family have to strictly observed 10 virtues or Dharma of the King, the monarchy then provides a political balance. Certainly, if you look at the monarchy as human, they can have some shortfalls when they cross the line, they could give criticism, but critics must treat them as a political institution that observes Dharma.
In terms of legal aspects, how do you see the Nitirat proposal?
I do not agree with the content of the proposed law, especially to remove Section 112 from national security laws. Since Thai people feel that they can die to protect this institution and they feel this institution must be protected to safeguard the state’s stability. Why should this law be removed from the national security law?
If the law continues to be in the security section, the penalty must be harsh and it will continue to be used as a political tool?
The point is not the law itself but the law enforcers. Sulak (Sivaraksa) was accused of several lese majeste charges, [but] prosecutors did not take up the cases because they believed he had not committed an offence. If law enforcers want to use the law as political tools they can do it anyway. But if the penalty is too harsh, it should be reduced.
Since the monarchy institution is at the centre of people’s thinking across the country, reducing the penalty may go against the concept of protecting the institution.
It should be OK, convicts should receive penalties in accordance with how serious an offence they commit. Critics can make comments against the monarchy for public interest for instance, against the police practice of blocking traffic. 
Actually the King has instructed that if they do not have official duties to carry out, [there is] no need to block roads or [they should] block only one side and for not more than five minutes. But police have kept his instructions secret because they see that they would have more difficult jobs [to do].
Reducing the penalty [for lese majeste] would lead to more insults of the monarchy, wouldn’t it?
The monarchy survives because people love the institution not fear the institution. For instance, a tree, you want it to grow, you have to nurture it by giving it fertiliser and killing weeds and insects that are like parasites on the tree. You have to kill them so that the tree can flourish, even though it affects the institution.
That means banning criticism against the institution is rather destructive.
Gossiping is part of Thai society, because we do not dare to criticise to the face but [do it] behind the back of people. If you publicly criticise your boss or your lecturers, so they improve themselves and this will be constructive criticism. The Nitirat group should be praised for their courage to speak out in a straight-forward manner. However, the way they criticise is not right because they do so in a challenging manner which is against Thai ways.
The King made his statement in 2003 over the law that states the King can do no wrong, saying that criticism against the king is permitted. King Rama VI also rewarded a navy official who criticised him for buying a big ship when the country’s financial situation was in a dire state. He said the official spoke not for his own interest but for public interest.
Anyone who criticises the King like that, the military will come out in defence [of the monarch].
The military has been part of the monarchy institution since 1932. They swore [allegiance] to the monarchy, not to the constitution. It is natural that they feel the monarchy must not be touched. They feel it is their duty to protect, but how to protect the institution is up to their intelligence.
It looks like Section 112 will not get to be amended. How should other justice procedures be changed to prevent use of the monarchy institution in politics?
We have to get people in the justice system to understand the institution – not understand it as merely a picture on the altar to worship. The Justice Ministry has already set up a screening committee to screen all lese majeste cases but police may not forward cases to the committee, unless the Justice Ministry knows about some cases and gives a recommendation [to do this]. The case of Khun Amphon [Tangnoppakul] or Akong, nobody submitted his case to the committee.
I believe the problem is not about the content of the law but the culture or how we treat or interact with the monarchy. People are in fear of authorities who use the monarchy to threaten them.
Another proposal that has meet with public opposition is [the call] to have the monarch swear before being enthroned to prevent the problem of the constitution being changed.
Since his accession to the throne, the King declared that: “I will rule the land righteously for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people”. By the word “righteously”, the King referred to principles and virtues which include the Constitution. The Nitirat group wants the King to protect the Constitution but sometimes he is not in a position to stop or prevent incidents, so he must let them go. Politics cannot be tied to a piece of paper. Power cannot be tied to a contract. 
The best way to prevent coups is to have people oppose coups. The [monarchy] institution cannot stop or prevent coups. 
Constitutions before the 1991 coup stipulated that appointment of the King must be approved by Parliament but no Constitution after that had this regulation – they only stated that Parliament be notified when a King is appointed. Why does not the Nitirat group propose this change? If we do not change this, the link between the monarchy and the people will be weakened. This is more important than swearing [an oath]. 
How do you view the move to single out protection of the monarch by only protecting the King but not protecting the Queen and his family and his representatives?
The King cannot live alone. The monarchy survives from having a line of succession and having a family. For instance, King Henry XIII did not have children. Whoever wanted the throne caused a civil war. I do not understand the Nitirat group’s rationale on this proposal.
What do you think caused the increase in lese majeste cases over the past five years?
I believe they are political cases or drummed-up charges. It is a struggle between the old and new power groups. The assets of these two groups account for only 20 per cent of the country’s total assets. They fight by mobilising or provoking the poor to bring changes to the institutions. 
They want to destroy all legitimacy and morality and faith because once the tips of these pillars are broken, the pillars will collapse. The other side of the power [struggle] has to protect the institution because they have hidden interests. That is why we have seen more lese majeste cases.
How do you foresee the fate of Section 112?
The procedures involved in this law are not professional in terms of legal aspects because they involve so much politics, power, the state, and fear that law enforcers dare not to use the law righteously. For instance, Sulak, who was accused of lese majeste and won the case in the Lower Court. Then Attorney General Kanit na Nakhon, dropped the case because he believed the case was weak. There are people like him but very few.
I believe this law will finally be amended but we need to educate the public to understand the institution with more wisdom. 
The media must present the topic with balanced views and not lopsided ones and not like how the Nitirat [group] present their views, though they claim their views are purely academic.