Sulak lese majeste case so absurd it hurts

Sulak lese majeste case so absurd it hurts

Sulak Sivaraksa speaks at a seminar at Thammasat University on June 24. (File photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Sulak Sivaraksa speaks at a seminar at Thammasat University on June 24. (File photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Well-known academic and social critic Sulak Sivaraksa is no stranger to lese majeste charges.

He has been charged with lese majeste five times since 1985, but escaped imprisonment for the first four cases in which he was never convicted -- either the case was withdrawn or dropped by the prosecutor, he was acquitted, or the case was quietly withdrawn with the intervention of somebody.

He also helped in bailing out student activist Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, aka Pai Dao Din, who was charged with lese majeste and violation of the Computer Crime Act for allegedly sharing online a BBC story.

Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.

But the fifth and the latest case against the self-professed royalist which saw him being escorted by the police to the Bangkok military court on Oct 8 and formally charged by the police is, in my opinion, unique in its absurdity.

In this case, a complaint was lodged against Mr Sulak in Oct 16, 2014 by two retired generals, Lt-Gen Pittaya Vimalin and Lt-Gen Padung Niwatwan, over a comment he made at a seminar held at Thammasat University in which the academic raised a question about the legend of the elephant duel about 400 years ago between King Naresuan and Burman Crown Prince Mingyi Swa.

According to the Thai history textbook I studied during my childhood -- and now studied by my children -- King Naresuan won the battle and killed the Burman prince and the Burman invading troops were routed.

The two retired generals filed a complaint with Chanasongkram police station, accusing Mr Sulak of defaming King Naresuan.

There are two issues about the Chanasongkram police's handling this lese majeste case that I found questionable and perplexing.

First, questionable -- why did it take police three years to decide to send this case to the prosecutor -- a military prosecutor in this case because we are now under the junta regime?

The second issue concerns the police interpretation of the lese majeste law or Section 112 of the Criminal Code in a way which makes the law look like it has an infinitely long hand which can delve into an event which took place some 400 years ago. The land on which the elephant duel was said to take place was not even called Siam.

Even the exact location of this battle is disputed between Suphan Buri and Kanchanaburi.

Put one Suphan Buri resident and a Kanchanaburi native together to talk about the location of the elephant duel, you will hear two different versions.

The first will claim that it was in Don Chedi district of Suphan Buri where a statue was built in remembrance of the epic event.

But the man from Kanchanaburi will argue it was in tambon Don Chedi of Phanom Thuan district of Kanchanaburi where an ancient chedi believed to have been built by King Naresuan himself was found.

The Chanasongkram police's wild interpretation of Section 112 begs a question about whether the writers of the lese majeste law really wanted it to become retroactively enforceable hundreds of years back to protect the kings of our past from defamation, contempt or insult?

It is open fact the lese majeste law has been misused by certain individuals, evident from the fact that several cases have been thrown out of court.

The problem of misuse of the law stems from the fact that anybody can file a lese majeste complaint with the police against any individual when s/he thinks that individual has committed the offence.

And in most cases, the police who receive the complaints are jumpy and will proceed with the complaints for fear they themselves may face charges of not being loyal to the monarchy.

The lese majeste charge against Mr Sulak has drawn widespread criticism from Western media, human rights organisations and the international community.

I only hope the military prosecutor will be more sensible and will interpret the lese majeste law in a realistic and sensible context, bearing in mind that it is not only Mr Sulak who will be put on trial, if the case proceeds to the military court.

Looming large behind the real courtroom battle will be the country itself which will be put on trial before the international community.

A trial of this ridiculous case will put us in the same league as the government of our neighbouring country to the east which is doing everything within its powers to suppress dissent and drive a nail in the coffin of the opposition.

It may backfire on our aspirations of becoming an outward-looking country in the age of Thailand 4.0.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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