Thailand: Charges against octogenarian writer and activist dropped
PEN welcomes the decision taken by Thai military prosecutors not to pursue charges of lèse majesté against renowned writer and activist Sulak Sivaraksa.
Sulak Sivaraksa, aged 85, is a well known social critic and the author of at least 100 books and monographs published in Thai and English addressing Thai society and culture (for more background on his writing, see RAN 20/17). A proponent of ‘engaged Buddhism,’ which ‘integrates the practice of Buddhism with social action for a healthy, just, and peaceful world,’ according to the International Network of Engaged Buddhists – an organization which he co-founded in 1989 – Sivaraksa has founded many civil society organizations and cultural initiatives. According to media reports, Sivaraksa sees dissent as an essential part of his loyalty to his nation.
The charges in question are related to a speech that Sivaraksa delivered in October 2014 at an academic discussion held at Thammasat University in which he questioned whether a 16th century elephant battle between the Thai King, King Naresuan, and the Burmese Crown Prince, Prince Mingyi Swa, had actually occurred.
King Naresuan is regarded as a national hero by the Thai military; indeed, National Armed Forces Day marks the date of the battle. At the time of his speech, King Naresuan was the subject of an epic film being promoted by the military junta. Sivaraksa reportedly urged the audience “not to easily believe in things. Otherwise they will fall prey to propaganda.” The charges against Sivaraksa were initially filed on October 16, 2014 by two lieutenant generals.
On October 9, 2017, Sivaraksa was taken before a military tribunal and informed that an almost three-year investigation into allegations of lèse majesté had been concluded. Released the same day, he was told that military prosecutors would decide on whether to proceed with the case at a hearing on December 7, 2017.
PEN understands that the military prosecutors have been advised to drop the case.
Thailand’s lèse majesté laws, which are among the strictest insult laws in the world, have remained unchanged since 1908. Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code states that “whoever defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne, or the Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of 3 to 15 years.”
PEN urges the authorities to amend the Criminal Code, in particular, the lèse-majesté law and the articles that criminalize defamation and insult, to ensure that it meets Thailand’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression. UN human rights mechanisms have repeatedly clarified that criminal defamation and insult laws, including lèse-majesté laws, are incompatible with international standards on free expression. In 2011, the then UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, called on Thailand to reform its lèse-majesté laws. He said, “The threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” They are also not in line with Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party.
For further information please contact Emma Wadsworth-Jones at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: emma.wadsworth-jones@pen-