Treat activist professionally
The arrest on Wednesday of singer and political activist Chai-amorn Kaewwiboonpan, aka Ammy The Bottom Blues, has turned up the political heat.
The singer was wanted for setting fire to a portrait of the King in front of Klong Prem Central Prison. The authorities also slapped him with charges of arson, computer crime and lese majeste. These are grave charges carrying severe penalties of three to 20 years in prison, even death for the alleged crime of arson. That the charges include insulting royalty under the controversial lese majeste law makes the case a closely watched and sensitive one.
Pol Maj Gen Piya Tawichai, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, said Chai-amorn was taken into custody at a rented room in Ayutthaya province. The singer cited illness so he would be transferred to a hospital in Bangkok, according to police. Bangkok police chief Pol Lt Gen Pakapong Pongpetra said police had witnesses and forensic evidence to charge Chai-amorn with participating in the burning of the royal portrait. The singer on Wednesday admitted to the crime.
The high-profile charges have intensified the political polarisation pitting the conservative establishment against pro-democracy youth.
As protests became more intense as evident in Sunday's march to the prime minister's residence, which left many injured, both protesters and police, it is also becoming clear that one of the protesters' demands for monarchy reform lies at the heart of the ever expanding fault line.
Since the latest round of protests started, the lese majeste charge has been brought against scores of political activists, including human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa who led a call for the monarchy to be reformed so that it stays within the constitutional monarchy framework.
The lawyer, and three other protest leaders charged with besmirching royalty, have been in detention for more than a month and their requests for bail have been repeatedly denied.
The detentions sparked a series of demonstrations demanding their release. The latest allegations against Chai-amorn have provoked frenzied reactions among the ultra-conservative. Hatred-mongering and the whipping up of extreme sentiments which are known to be precursors of clashes and violence are rampant on social media. At the other end of the political spectrum, anger and resentment flared.
For the "liberals" the lese majeste law is problematic in how it can be almost freely interpreted to cover even fair-minded criticism of the monarchy or how it allows anyone to act as a plaintiff which is against legal principles. That the controversial law has been increasingly used against anti-government activists and people who may sincerely want to see reform of the monarchy has made the issue even more contentious.
Considering the sensitivity of the case, the burden falls on the police to show the public they will adhere to a sensible application of the law.
To avoid causing scepticism that could fuel the political conflict further, the police and state authorities must ensure their actions are proportionate to the crime and that Chai-amorn and the other suspects linked to the incident must be treated with fairness.
The authorities must also prove beyond doubt that the incident violated the law and nothing else. The time calls for prudence. The craze to apply the lese majeste law unscrupulously must be stopped. The case against Chai-amorn must be handled with the highest degree of professionalism, and forethought.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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