Legal threats need rethink

Legal threats need rethink

Government supporters may have cheered loudly when Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha declared he would apply "all laws and articles" against pro-reform demonstrators.

Those laws include Section 112 of the criminal code, also known as the lese majeste law, which punishes people who defame or insult the King, Queen, heir apparent, or the regent.

The PM may be convinced that the controversial law, which carries harsh punishments of three to 15 years in jail, would be the perfect weapon to quell the "unrest".

However, a belief that the ongoing ideological conflict can be solved by further suppression is naive at best.

At worst, the PM's attempt to bring the lese majeste law into the political conflict could spin it in a more dangerous direction, if not out of control altogether.

The PM apparently issued the statement heralding the government's plan for a more aggressive approach following the rally outside parliament, which saw several clashes.

Water cannon and teargas were used as protesters tried to break through the police barricade.

A group of yellow-clad royalists also faced off against the protesters, with gunshots fired, injuring six people.

After a crackdown, some protesters vented their frustration and anger by daubing and spraying paint on the fence of the Royal Thai Police headquarters, the wall of Wat Pathum, bus stops and on roads.

The graffiti included offensive language, some of it against the monarchy.

These rude words could have triggered the PM's threat to apply the lese majeste law against the protesters, whose three demands include monarchy reform.

Considering the situation, the PM's intention to match protesters' anger with even stricter law enforcement will not help the situation.

The lese majeste law has been viewed as "problematic" in the eyes of law experts and human rights groups both here and internationally.

It not only carries a minimum sentence of three years in jail but also allows anyone to act as a plaintiff against anybody. The definition of "defame" or "insult" has never been clearly spelled out either.

These ambiguities make the law vulnerable to being used as a tool to stifle freedom of expression and to silence "undesirable" political voices.

To apply a law that is viewed as "deeply flawed" against protesters calling for monarchy reform is likely to intensify the conflict.

In declaring his tougher stance, PM Gen Prayut claimed that the government and security agencies have pursued all courses to tackle the conflict.

He insisted the government was genuine in its wish to foster unity among all groups in society.

But the truth is the government has not been seen to take any of the protesters' demands and grievances into account.

Its claim that riot police followed international standards is also open to debate.

It remains questionable why water cannon and teargas were used on when the protests showed no signs of violence.

The demand for monarchy reform may be a sensitive topic, but if the government truly wants to pursue inclusive dialogue with all groups, it should set up a safe forum for people to try to seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

A stricter application of the law, especially a controversial one like lese majeste, is not the solution. The PM should rethink his stance.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th



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