Don't abuse Section 112
Having been charged with lese majeste for the fifth time for his 2014 remark which questioned whether King Naresuan had really won a 1593 battle by defeating a Burmese prince, historian and social critic Sulak Sivaraksa has been cleared. Last month, the Bangkok military court decided to drop the case against him citing a lack of evidence. But the majority of people charged with lese majeste offences are not so lucky.
During the post-2014 coup period alone, iLaw, a civic group monitoring law enforcement, reported that at least 94 people were charged under the lese majeste law, or Section 112 of the Criminal Code, which seeks to punish those who defame the monarchy. Many of them were political activists, politically active citizens or merely internet users who happened to share articles deemed to offend the highest institution.
As Mr Sulak noted during his interview with BBC Thai this week, as long as the law in its current form is not amended, anyone can become prey to prosecution. The law has benefited governments who have used it against the people, he said.
For decades, the law has been used as a tool against political opponents. After the 2014 coup, dissents became prime targets.
Even though he is a self-proclaimed royalist, Mr Sulak was slapped with four previous charges but cleared of all of them. The fifth case against him was filed by two retired army lieutenant generals. While the law provides protection for the reigning monarch rather than historical ones, the police still proceeded with pressing charges of lese majeste and computer crime offences against him.
Similarly, many other people are charged or prosecuted based on a small shred of "evidence" or selective use of the law. Unlike the 84-year-old internationally known social critic, they end up spending years in jail while others have had to flee the country.
Two anti-coup activists, for example, have been charged with lese majeste and computer crime offences for sharing a BBC Thai profile of His Majesty the King on their Facebook pages. Student activist Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, aka Pai Dao Din, ended up in jail. Chanoknan "Cartoon" Ruamsap last month decided to flee into exile. Among more than 2,800 people who shared the same article on social media, only two have been charged following complaints filed by military officers.
As long as anyone is allowed to file complaints with the police, the law will remain vulnerable to misuse and abuse. Most of the time the justice system proceeds with these cases, no matter how minor the accusations are. Mr Sulak's cases have been the rare exception.
During his BBC Thai interview, Mr Sulak called for amendments to Section 112. The provision on the minimum punishment should be removed while the term of three to 15 years in prison should be reduced, he suggested. He also recommended the establishment of a committee to screen lese majeste complaints prior to police taking over.
His suggestions reflect a previous proposal by the Nitirat group of Thammasat law professors who suggested lese majeste should be excluded from the provision on national security offences and that no one should have the right to file complaints but the Office of His Majesty's Principal Private Secretary.
The recommendations by Mr Sulak and the Nitirat group could make our enforcement of the law more sensible if the current government listens. Reform of the lese majeste law would be a good start for the country in treating libel and defamation cases, under Section 326 of the Criminal Code, as civil ones as long as the level of damage or offence does not constitute a need for criminal punishment.
The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej once said he must also be criticised. And if the military regard themselves as the guardians of the monarchy, there is no reason for them to remain idle and let the law be abused and misused, which could end up damaging the highest institution's international reputation.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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