Leading Thai commentator charged with insulting king

 

BANGKOK – Police have filed formal charges against Thailand’s leading left-wing political commentator, accusing him of insulting the king in a 2007 book criticising the previous year’s military coup.

Giles Ungpakorn of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University has denied all charges, saying the army and Democrat Party-led government were using Thailand’s draconian lèse majestélaws to crush dissent and freedom of expression.

Lèse majestéis being used to destroy free speech,” Giles said outside the central Bangkok police station yesterday. “They’re not really about protecting the monarchy.” He said the charges stemmed from a complaint filed by his own university bookshop which had pulled the book from sale.

As he left the station after 30 minutes of questioning, he was greeted by a noisy crowd of 20 red-shirted anti-government supporters waving banners calling for the scrapping of the law.

Insulting any aspect of the monarchy is taken extremely seriously in Thailand, where many people regard King Bhumibol Adulyadej as semi-divine. The offence carries up to 15 years in jail, although critics say the law is frequently abused by politicians since a complaint can be filed by anybody, no matter how trivial or tangential the alleged disrespect to the crown.

An Australian author was sentenced to three years in jail on Monday for defaming the crown prince in a 2005 novel that sold only seven copies.

Prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said he wants to “strike the balance between upholding the law and allowing freedom of expression”, although his administration has blocked 2,300 websites deemed critical of the palace.

His justice minister wants to toughen the law, intensifying criticism of the Democrats as opportunists who would not have come to power in December without the help of the army, which removed elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a 2006 coup.

Even though the king said in 2005 he should not be above criticism, the number of lèse majestécases filed has mounted dramatically during the political turbulence that has followed the putsch. – (Reuters)