Ah Kong's death again spotlights the lese majeste law debate

Ah Kong's death again spotlights the lese majeste law debate

An ordinary elderly man, Ah Kong came to the world's notice because of his highly publicised arrest, trial and imprisonment on lese majeste charges. He died alone, without any loved ones by his bedside, at the Bangkok Remand Prison's hospital this morning -- his plea for a royal pardon yet to be answered.

My condolences to the family of Ampon Tangnoppakul, alias Ah Kong or Uncle SMS, who was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment by the Criminal Court last November 23 after he was found guilty on four counts of committing lese majeste.

The 61-year old man was declared dead this morning, having passed away in the hospital at Bangkok Remand  Prison, where he had spent his jail term, by Pol Col Suchart Wong-ananchai, the Corrections Department director-general.

Ampon Tangnoppakul

He said that Ah Kong suffered stomach pains on May 3 and was given pain killers as standard prison procedure. When his condition did not improve he was admitted to the prison hospital the next day. He remained in the hospital until his death this morning.

Pol Col Suchart said the cause of Ah Kong’s death was still unclear. Doctors would peform an autopsy.

Ah Kong became an instant celebrity, of a sort, after his high-profile arrest in mid-2010 by police who linked him to an illegal movement with the intention to overthrow the monarchy.

Because of his age, Ah Kong’s trial on lese majeste charges, for allegedly sending four short messages deemed to be offensive to the monarchy, to Somkiat Krongwattanasuk, personal secretary of then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva attracted special attention from human rights advocacy groups, foreign and local media, as well as members of the red-shirt movement.

His trial also prompted calls by human rights groups and advocates of free expression, including the Nitirat group, for amendments to the lese majeste law, Article 112 of the Criminal Code.

Regrettably, the calls for the amendment, or even lifting, of the lese majeste law, fell on the deaf ears of the Pheu Thai Party-led  government, which seems set on reconciling with the amataya clique in its attempt to push through  its reconciliation plan and pave the way for the return home of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The party does not want to offend the military, which has stated clearly it does not want the lese majeste law to be amended. Hence, the law remains intact even if the constitution is to be rewritten.

After his conviction, Ah Kong appealed against the verdict but he later withdrew the appeal and instead sought royal clemency. Unfortunately, he died before there was an answer to his plea.

Given the extensive responses to Ah Kong’s death in the Twitter social media, and in foreign news reports, it seems likely that his sudden demise while serving his jail term will re-ignite the calls for changes to the lese majeste law by the free expression and human rights advocacy groups.

It is doubtful that the government, or the Pheu Thai Party, will change its stand on the issue.

The June 24 group led by Somyos Prueksakasem , who is also facing a lese majeste charge, planned to gather in front of Bangkok Reamnd Prison at 4pm today to pay respects to Ah Kong.

Personally, I believe that the lese majeste law should be amended to prevent abuse of the law  by political elements against their opponents. At present, any individual can file a lese majeste complaint with the police, who must follow up on it, regardless.  Also, the penalty for the offence is too heavy.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

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

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