World Bulletin/News Desk
A recent spate of lese-majeste cases in Thailand, the most recent against an intellectual who questioned the heroic deeds of a king who died more than 400 years ago, could derail the military junta’s attempts to join the UN Human Rights Council.
On Tuesday, the UN will decide whether to add Thailand to the 47-member Human Rights Council, the Bangkok Post reported, with the government pledging that it attached the “utmost importance to the promotion and protection of the rights of all people.”
But the laws of lese majeste, which outlaw insults or criticism of the current monarchy, have been extended in recent years to protect anything connected to the Crown as anxiety over the royal succession mounts.
Last week, two ultra-royalist military officers filed a complaint against Sulak Sivaraksa, 82, over remarks about King Naresuan, who reigned between 1595 and 1605 and is seen as a national hero.
Sivaraksa questioned Naresuan’s victory over a Burmese crown prince in an elephant duel in 1593 at the battle of Nong Sarai.
“Is Naresuan really a hero as they claim?” he reportedly said. “Did anyone of us actually see King Naresuan engaging in an elephant duel?”
Since the military took power in May, all lese majeste cases are being tried by military courts, where there is no possibility of appeal. The offense is punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment and, with cumulative sentencing, offenders can be sentenced to several decades in jail.
Neighboring Cambodia, also a constitutional monarchy, has no lese-majeste law.
Earlier this month, a 67-year-old man was charged over anti-monarchy grafitti he wrote on a bathroom wall in a Bangkok shopping mall. In August, a student activist and a theatre artist were arrested and charged with “insulting monarchy” in a university drama production.
“Cases in the past months that would have been shelved under the previous government are now being fast-tracked into the military courts where, even more than under the civilian courts, defendants are heading towards a near-certain guilty verdict,” Thailand-based academic and an expert on lese-majeste issues David Streckfuss wrote on his Facebook page Monday.
At least 21 people linked to lese-majeste cases are currently in jail, 16 having been charged since the coup.
The military regime has whipped up nationalism, ordering the re-writing of school books to emphasize the exploits of “glorious past kings” and organizing free screenings of epic movies.
Thailand’s relationship with its monarchy has been especially tense as the reign of the much-revered but frail King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, draws to a close. His designated successor, Prince Vajiralongkorn, 62, is far less popular than his father.
The UN General Assembly in New York decides Tuesday whether to admit Thailand to the Human Rights Council next year.
The Post reported that human rights groups, including the International Federation for Human Rights and the Union for Civil Liberty called Monday on the government to lift martial law and media censorship.
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