Time to drop Sulak charges
On Oct 5, 2014, the prominent social critic and history expert Sulak Sivaraksa spoke at a seminar on former King Naresuan. Eleven days later, two retired army lieutenant generals filed a complaint with police.
They alleged lese majeste over Mr Sulak's presentation at the Thammasat University event. Five weeks ago -- three years later -- the police formally charged the internationally famed 85-year-old Mr Sulak with lese majeste. An alleged violation of the Computer Crime Act was tacked on, as it so often and lamentably it is. A military court prosecutor will decide on Dec 7 whether to proceed with the charges.
Mr Sulak is something of an expert on lese majeste, having been charged with this crime four times in the past. He has never been convicted. At least the four previous charges had a tiny shred of substance. This one does not, and police, especially Pol Lt Col Somyot Udomraksasap, the original investigating inspector from Chana Songkhram Police Station, should feel ashamed for bringing it to prosecutors.
At that seminar more than three years ago, Mr Sulak spoke about the most iconic battle in Thai history. Literally every Thai has learned the legend. It describes the fight on elephant back in 1593 betweenKing Naresuan and the Burmese crown prince Minchit Sra. The king's victory forced the Burmese to turn tail and end their invasion of Ayutthaya. This dramatic victory is the centrepiece to many books, plays and an immensely popular 2007 film, King Naresuan, which spurred prequels, sequels and a cartoon movie about the actual battle elephant, Khan Kluay.
Mr Sulak, by nature a fact-finder and sometimes a cynic, wondered openly about today's version of that battle of the Ayutthaya kingdom. He told students and others at the seminar to think critically about Thai history. He openly questioned whether contemporary histories and art have the details right about the Battle of Nong Sarai.
The two ex-army complainants effectively accused him of denying the victory of King Naresuan. The accusation is wrong, because Mr Sulak only urged keeping an open mind. More to the point, however, is that the lese majeste law, Section 112 of the Criminal Code, protects the reigning monarch and royal family. Mr Sulak's lawyer, Puangtip Boonsanong, said it was "up to each individual's interpretation" whether historical kings are protected. Parliamentary records, however, indicate it was not written with any intent to shield historical figures. For certain, no wording in Section 112 even hints at this.
Mr Sulak is known primarily as a social critic for good reason. "I speak the truth," he says. "I believe in the Quakers: speaking truth to power. I think it is my duty." That may sound cantankerous to some, but this elderly man who walks with the aid of a cane has the experience and demonstrated knowledge to back it up. Plus, of course, in no way is it disrespectful to King Naresuan to closely examine this episode in Thai history. No written records from his reign are available to describe the war-elephant battle.
Time has come now to release Mr Sulak from these charges. As he has proved countless times, he is a rigid patriot without harmful intentions to the monarchy or royal family. His admonition to the seminar to critically examine history is, in fact, well taken. Legends make good movies but factual attention to history is a far more important task.
Mr Sulak never should have been in the dock. Even if the two retired army officers filed a complaint in good faith, the charges should not hold up to careful police investigation. As of now, the case against Mr Sulak is yet another misuse of the lese majeste law, which has been abused too often.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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