Thailand: Activist arrested for 'insulting' monarch

Issue 

Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a political science professor at Thailand's Chulalongkorn University and a well-known socialist activist, has been ordered to appear at a Bangkok police station to be charged under the country's stiff laws for insulting the country's monarch.

Ungpakorn, an activist with the socialist Turn Left Thailand group, which is affiliated with the International Socialist Tendency, has written a series of flame-throwing articles.

In these pieces, he has charged that a royalist and anti-democratic alliance made up of what he called the "fascist" People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the military, the police, the judiciary, most middle-class academics and especially Queen Sirikit of perpetrating a royalist coup that kicked two democratically elected governments out of power.

As Thailand emerges gingerly from two years of political chaos that began with a September 2006 military coup against the democratically elected government of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the government is increasingly using lese majeste laws, the most restrictive known anywhere in the world, to stifle dissent.

Since the 1970s, the laws have grown progressively stricter.

Although the law is ostensibly designed to protect King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family, it is increasingly being used to go after government critics, warranted or not.

Charges have been filed against several individuals including the BBC correspondent in Bangkok, Jonathan Head, for reporting on the political situation.

Ungpakorn said that he is prepared to fight any charges "in order to defend academic freedom, freedom of expression and democracy in Thailand".

Ungpakorn's book A Coup for the Rich was withdrawn from sale by Chulalongkorn and Thammasat universities. However, Ungpakorn said all 1000 copies had sold out. He directed readers to his blog, where the book is available in its entirety.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has protested the use of lese majeste laws against the press, particularly against BBC reporter Head. But use of the laws goes well beyond just journalism. In September, Australian novelist Harry Nicolaides, 41, was arrested at Bangkok's airport on charges that he had defamed the royal family in a 2005 novel.

He said he was unaware of the arrest warrant. He remains in jail despite four appeals.

The blogger Bangkok Pundit in November wrote that police are handling another 30 lese majeste cases including one against social critic Sulak Sivalak, who was arrested at his home in Khon Kaen in November for remarks he had made the previous December.

Among the most prominent charged was former minister in the prime minister's office Jakrapob Penkair, who in a speech to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in 2007, criticised Thailand's patronage system and particularly criticised Prem Tinsulanonda, the president of the Privy Council, a former prime minister and army general who is particularly close to the king.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Thailand 124th among 173 countries for restricting press freedom, recently expressing concern because 2300 websites were blocked in 2008, in most cases for lese majeste.

Ranongrak Suwanchawee, appointed information minister in the new Democrat Party government headed by Abhisit Vejjajiva, said on December 29
that blocking lese-majeste websites would be her ministry's main task.

To assist Ungpakorn, you can write a letter of protest/concern to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Government House, Bangkok, Thailand. Fax number +66 (0) 29727751. You can also write a letter or protest to the ambassador, Royal Thai Embassy, in your country.

[Originally published in the January 12 Asia Sentinel, a longer version of this article can be found at .]