Thammasat lecturers testify in defence of Somyot

On 2 May, two Thammasat lecturers testified as defence witnesses in the lèse majesté trial of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, former editor of Voice of Taksin magazine.

Law lecturer Dr Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said that he and a few of his colleagues formed a group called Nitirat in 2010 to provide the public with knowledge and understanding of the law in line with the rule of law and democracy, and the lèse majesté law had been one of their main concerns.

Punishment under the lèse majesté law has become increasingly more severe since the Absolute Monarchy, which ended in 1932, particularly by the junta which seized power after 6 Oct 1976 in order to restrict the rights and freedoms of students, he said.

In his view, the words ‘defame, insult or threaten’ in Section 112 of the Criminal Code mean the same as those involving ordinary people in Sections 326 and 392 which carry maximum penalties of one year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of 20,000 baht, and one month’s imprisonment and/or a fine of 1,000 baht, respectively.  In comparison, the punishment of 3-15 years’ imprisonment under Section 112 is much harsher, despite the fact that there is no special definition of the offences under this section.  This section does not allow any exemption from punishment for criticism made in good faith, and it is placed in the chapter on national security, which is against democratic rule and unconstitutional.  The rights of those who are accused under this section are also violated as they are denied bail.

He said that defamation of the King had nothing to do with national security, because it would only tarnish the King’s reputation, and Thailand was under democratic rule, not an absolute monarchy in which the King had supreme power.

However, harsher punishment for lèse majesté than the same offence against ordinary people can be prescribed, but it should not be too much harsher, or as harsh as it now is.  Some other countries also have a similar law, but with less severe penalties, and prosecution and punishment have been rare.  Punishment, if any, may be just payment of a fine.  The law may still exist in some countries, but is virtually non-existent.  And court verdicts can be criticized, he said.

Regarding the content of Voice of Taksin magazine, he said that it covered history and politics and was more progressive than other magazines.  He believed that in the two allegedly offending articles the writer, Jitr Pollachan, meant to talk about the ‘ammat’, which is a certain class of people who have always held influence in Thai politics.

In the ‘Bloody Plan’ article which talks about an assassination attempt against Thaksin Shinawatra when he was Prime Minister, he understood that the writer wanted to say that such incidents might happen and to warn the ammat not to do so.  The article did not make him think of the King, and ‘Luang Narueban’ in the other article entitled ‘6 Oct of 2010’ was a symbol for the ammat, not the King, he said.

Regarding Section 8 of the Constitution which states that ‘The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated.  No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action,’ he said that the words ‘revered worship’ are supposed to honour the King, not to force the people to do so, and the phrase ‘shall not be violated’ means that nobody could file any lawsuit against the King, not to prohibit criticisms.

He said that the 1941 Print Act, Section 48 of which stated that editors of printed material must be held responsible for published content, had already been abolished, and replaced by the 2007 Print Registration Act, which stated that editors and publishers did not have to be held responsible for published content.

In response to the public prosecutor who said that King Taksin had gone insane, so King Rama I of the current Chakri Dynasty ascended to the throne in place of him, Piyabutr said that the writer did not show an intent to threaten, but was just telling the story in a normal way, and in his opinion the widely known mainstream history was not always true.

Assoc Prof Sudsa-nguan Sutheesorn, lecturer from Thammasat’s Faculty of Social Administration, testified that the name of the magazine ‘Voice of Taksin’ was chosen for red-shirt readers.  She herself read the word ‘Taksin’ as ‘Taak-sin’, as in King Taksin, not Thaksin.

In her opinion, the two articles were written in a narrative style of telling stories, and were political literature not based on any academic discipline or history.  They were written as the writer wished.

She believed that the articles did not refer to the monarchy, and ‘Luang Narueban’ meant Gen Prem Tinsulanonda.

She said that the lèse majesté law carried very severe penalties, and prosecutions under the law were political persecution.

This seems outstanding

This seems outstanding testimony and a very good use of this otherwise very sad tribunal of persecution.

There are, in my view, two threads of execution proceeding in tandem here.

The one is the persecution of Somyos; and through him the population of Thailand at large is expected to be terrorized - to shut up, to keep their heads down, to fear and obey their 'superiors' in the Royal Thai Army and the Amaat. A standard lese majeste persecution has nothing to do with the law or with trials. After long terms of pre-trial imprisonment, in shackles and chains - calculated to produce guilty pleas and thus to moot, in the eyes of the 'authorities' anyway, the illegal aspects of their persecution - the accused are brought to court to be formally sentenced.

The other is this wonderful use of the occasion of the show trial to bring real legal reasoning to bear, to put the extra-judicial nature of the Royal Thai Courts - their institutionalized injustice - under the microscope for all to examine. And without Prachatai we would remain unaware of this outstanding work.

I'm afraid the short-term result will be the same as it always is - the judges will ignore everything but their instructions and dutifully imprison the accused for decades, making up - or divining - some excuse for doing so.

But longer-term more and more people must be growing aware of the basic bankruptcy of the Thai Justice System - at least with regard to lese majeste persecution.

Somyos is a real hero, in my view, for refusing to buckle, to cave, to plead guilty to a 'crime' which he did not commit in the hopes of having a multiple-decade sentence cut down to 'just' a single decade. And then to crawl on the ground before the Amaat, debasing himself, and begging them to allow HM the King to pardon him after 'a few short years' in prison.

The only way things will change is for us to change them. As ever ...

Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted ...

It is clearly up to ourselves either to resist or to continue to suffer injustice and wrong. Thank you Somyos, thank you Piyabutr, thank you Sudsa-nguan and all the others prepared to live within the truth, to resist, and to work to right the wrongs in the world we all share.