112 turns 100

112 turns 100

Lese majeste enforcement turned a robust, aggressive 100 last week, shackling and "interrogating" a lawyer who fittingly enough was best known for fighting lese majeste lawsuits.

Then it took on five more alleged scofflaws who thought they could just share Facebook messages even though they had been specifically, carefully and very publicly warned not to.

Prawet Prapanukul, a human rights lawyer, shows his opposition to the enforcement of Section 112 of the Criminal Code, aka the lese majeste law. (Undated photo supplied, via HRW.org)

To be clear, that's not 100 years. That is 105 lese majeste cases brought by the military regime in two years, 11 months and 15 days. We could probably write "105 convictions" because thus far there have been no acquittals.

The count itself is possibly controversial. Andrea Giorgetta, head of the Asia section of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, keeps track as best she can. But there might be -- probably are -- even more cases at the hands of the general prime minister, because lese majeste arrests and trials are sometimes secret and never completely open. The truth is that while there have been 105 known prosecutions since May 22, 2014, there might have been more.

Take the latest case.

Masked, armed men from the junta's Special Forces In Charge of Midnight Raids entered the home of Prawet Prapanukul in the very early morning of Saturday, April 29. They didn't knock.

After six days, it was revealed that the 57-year-old lawyer was taken directly for interrogation to urban Bangkok's very own black site, the 11th Army Circle base. There, he was, well, interrogated for five days, and please don't ask for details.

Human rights groups made as much noise as possible about Mr Prawet's disappearance to call the regime's hand. Good luck with that tactic. A junta spokesman, although still handsome, had no knowledge of the fate of Mr Prawet or 82 other cases of "involuntary disappearance". Or so he said.

When Mr Prawet got to court, the judge noted he faced 10 separate lese majeste charges. That is a record. There never has been a 10-violation case of anti-monarchy activities. Mr Prawet's most famous and outrageous client held the previous record, which was six.

That is gregarious and potty-mouthed Da Torpedo, Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, who was outspoken about royalty and earned serial lese majeste charges.

After aligning with the post-Voldemort red shirts, she capped her lese majeste career with a speech at a Sanam Luang political rally in June 2008. It descended so quickly and deeply into anti-monarchy rhetoric that even her supporters were walking out.

Mr Prawet suggested there was no legal defence possible. She took her punishment stoically and defiantly, refusing to back up a millimetre, let alone apologise. And prison broke her. They treated her like a foreign enemy prisoner of war and refused medical aid even though she clearly needed it. She applied for and finally got a royal pardon in August last year. Let's just say she won't be making any more anti-monarchy speeches and leave it at that.

Bombastic Da Torpedo, Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, was Mr Prawet's best-known client. She beat a sedition charge in July, 2009 (above), but within a month was convicted of lese majeste, and prison eventually beat her. (File photo by Surapol Promsaka na Sakolnakorn)

Mr Prawet's 10 offences all are secret. We can't know because repeating someone's lese majeste statement is lese majeste. We know that three of the five people alongside Mr Prawet are charged with forwarding Facebook messages from the banned Thammasat professor Somsak Jeamteerasakul about the disappeared democracy plaque from the Royal Plaza.

Funny how everything these days comes back to Facebook.

Now, some people say it's not really notable that the regime has charged someone with lese majeste every 10 days, six hours and 37 minutes on average since it seized power. But if you put that against the rest of the world of prison cells for lese majeste cases in the past just-under three years, the final result is Thailand 105, World 0.

Thailand holds other Guinness world records, of course -- largest restaurant with roller-skating waiters and most expensive pet wedding. But Thailand is so efficient and dominating in prosecuting lese majeste that no other country competes in the event.

The current regime far outshines previous governments. In the past, people openly if timorously suggested that Section 112 of the Criminal Code could be changed in a way that would provide for better enforcement, with more justice. No one has suggested that for two years, 11 months and 15 days.

Probably that's just a coincidence, since there is no law against suggesting it. But then, most likely no one will be forwarding Prof Somsak's Facebook posts or those of two other men the regime doesn't like, Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

At least not under their own names and without a heavy-duty VPN.


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