Lèsing Whose Majesté?
The most recent issue of OK magazine (Thai version) has, perhaps inevitably, a photo spread on the latest British Royal Wedding. The story caption (and captions in OK Thailand are always in English) reads ‘The Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge’.
Where on earth did they get the outlandish idea that the former Ms Middleton was Dutch? (Admittedly she is female, so the -ess bit is OK.)
Now there are those of the ‘wooden shoes, wooden heads wouldn’t listen’ persuasion who would interpret any accusation of being Dutch as an insult. (No offence at people who really are Dutch, of course – it’s not their fault.)
So this is a claim that a member of the British Royal Family springs from, or is otherwise associated with an inferior race. The Prachatai legal team is at this very moment researching whether this gives me good cause to march into my local police station and charge the publishers, editors and writers of the magazine with lèse majesté.
Aha, you may say, but they didn’t mean it. It is merely the result of that dangerous mixture you find in Thais (especially the ones who write the slogans for t-shirts and pencil-boxes) of trying to look cool by using English words but not really knowing English very well.
Nonsense. Spellcheck should have shown them there was something amiss. And in any case, ignorance is no defence before the majesty of the law. Nor, in the face of the other kind of majesté, is lack of malevolent intent. If any comment ‘defames, insults, or threatens’, then it constitutes an offence, whether the remark is deliberate, careless, inadvertent, unintentional, or, as probably in this case, pig ignorant.
But, I hear a strangled cry, Article 112 covers only the King, Queen, Heir Apparent or Regent of this country. Commoner wives of the heirs apparent of the heirs apparent of other countries don’t count.
Pshaw. This, as the Royal Thai Army well knows, is no bar to a lèse majesté prosecution. It is the thin end of the wedge; it is the ha’porth of tar, for whose lack the ship sank; it is (to make an appropriate reference here) the hole in the dike that the little Dutch boy stuck his finger up. Let just one majesté be lèsed and before you can say ‘republicanism’, they’re lèsing the lot. This kind of slipshod slander must be nipped in the bud.
Which is why it is appropriate now to warn the media in this country to continue ignoring the Bahraini version of the Arab spring. (The mainstream western media are also making valiant efforts to use news from Libya to drown out reporting of events in Bahrain.)
In the past month, the two major English-language newspapers in Bangkok have between them managed exactly one story on the political conflict in Bahrain (plus one on the Bahrain football team, one on the Bahrain Grand Prix, one on a new hotel in Bahrain and one on a new Thai restaurant there.)
And as the ruling Royal Family strive to maintain power in Bahrain, that level of interest is exactly as it should be. We do not want any reporting of the claims of organizations like Amnesty International, who, in the same month of virtual silence by the Thai media, have reported unfair trials in military courts of opposition demonstrators and human rights defenders, in some cases leading to death sentences, torture of detainees to an extent that requires surgery afterwards, and the imprisonment of health professionals on trumped charges after they were caught treating the wounds of demonstrators injured by security forces.
Other organizations have reported the deliberate shooting of unarmed protestors, enforced disappearances, deaths in detention, the destruction of Shi’a mosques (demonstrators are mostly Shi’a while the ruling Al Khalifa family are Sunni), night attacks on the houses of suspected protesters and human rights defenders, unprovoked beatings of civilians at check-points, blanket media and internet censorship, and denial of medical care to people inured by the security forces.
Not that all of this can be blamed on the Bahraini monarchy. They have been ably assisted by the Gulf Cooperation Council. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have provided additional forces to help in the oppression. Both monarchies, of course.
But Culture Minister Niphit Intarasombat for one will be hoping that the ruling monarchy clings on to power in Bahrain. According to the Minister, in the countries he has visited which used to have monarchies, people now say ‘with one voice’ that they want them back. Which of course explains why monarchist parties in France, Germany, Austria, Brazil, and elsewhere, none of which are banned, make such an impact in elections.
What culture is he the minister of? The culture of ignorance?