Curb abuse of Section 112
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Curb abuse of Section 112

There is no question that the monarchy must be protected against slander and defamation.

What authorities should come to terms with, however, is that the existing lese majeste law is not giving the highly revered institution the kind of protection it deserves.

With a degree of discernment, the powers-that-be should realise that defending the royal family needn't conflict with human rights, as the situation seems to be at present.

In fact, there is a way for the authorities to safeguard both. It is for them to amend the lese majeste law.

Section 112 of the criminal code, otherwise known as the lese majeste law, has come back under the international spotlight and scrutiny following recent cases which carried record-high jail terms.

On Aug 7, the Bangkok Military Court sentenced travel agent Phongsak Sribunpeng to 30 years in prison for posting six comments on Facebook that were deemed critical of the royal family.

The sentence was commuted from an original jail term of 60 years — 10 years for each post — because of his confession.

On the same day, the Chiang Mai Military Court gave hotel employee Sasiwimol Patomwongfa-ngarm a sentence of 28 years for posting seven comments on Facebook critical of the monarchy.

The sentence was also halved from 56 years because of her guilty plea.

These two cases, plus an earlier one in March when the Bangkok Military Court convicted Thiansutham Suttijitseranee to 25 years for posting five comments considered offensive to the monarchy on Facebook, prompted the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCR) to voice its disapproval.

The Geneva-based organisation said it was "appalled" by the "shockingly disproportionate" prison terms handed down over the past few months in lese majeste cases.

According to the UNHCR, these cases carried the heaviest sentences since 2006.

The military government defended the lese majeste sentences as normal enforcement of the law.

Government spokesman Maj Gen Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak said the administration was doing nothing new in these cases but applying the law properly.

The statement may be correct but what the government spokesman failed to consider is the fact that it is the lese majeste law itself that is the problem in these cases.

The UNHCR has a point when it described the lese majeste law as being "vague and broad".

While the law carries a punishment of three to 15 years' imprisonment for anybody who defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, Heir-Apparent or Regent, it does not define what constitutes acts of defamation or insult.

Worse, the criminal code which dates back to 1908 allows anyone to file a lawsuit against others.

This loophole not only goes against international legal standards but opens space for people with vested interests to abuse the legislature to vilify their opponents.

At its heart, the lese majeste law relies on the application of heavy sentences to deter people from committing the crime.

But its flaws — in how the crime may be arbitrarily defined and in how it can be cited against anyone without a plaintiff’s responsibility — has caused this feature to backfire against its application and the institution it is supposed to protect.

For Section 112 to serve its purpose effectively, it must be amended.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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