On February 5 an unidentified man was arrested for comments he posted to a webboard. His house was searched, his computer confiscated as evidence, his family frightened, and friends panicked. These are ordinary people who express opinions that the authorities consider dangerous, and the mainstream media never allows. The Internet is their only outlet.
The police released this man on February 6, told him to stop making comments on webboard, and they will let the case go away quietly. They also expect no protest or any political attention to his brief detention.
How many other cases there are there like this one? It is a perfect method of intimidation and creating fear without having to do the paper work to the end, not having to bother the court, and without public attention. Many Thais now say they will withdraw from the internet exchanges, at least for a long while.
The lèse majesté situation in Thailand is not getting any better.
The government announced last month (Jan 2010) that they would set up a committee to oversee the cases to prevent the abuses of the law. During the past year, the convictions in three cases were severe (18, 10 and 7 years of prison). One of the prisoners has a serious medical problem requiring surgery, but her request to see a specialist was denied by the prison authority and by the court on the ground that her crime (LM) is serious.
A dozen more people were arrested, charged for lèse majesté, either by the lèse majesté law or under the Computer Crimes Act 2007 which is a lèse majesté law in disguise. The CCA has not been used against pornography or identity theft but solely for lèse majesté. Four recent arrests were for translating news from Bloomberg about the monarch’s health, for spreading so-called “inauspicious rumours” after the downturn in the Thai stock market.
An unconfirmed source reports there are about 200 lèse majesté cases in court at the moment. We can imagine how widespread the intimidation and fear is.
Meanwhile Thai authorities intensify their propaganda to justify the lèse majesté. Their repeated arguments are the following: 1) The monarchy in Thailand is so unique and special that no other country and their laws can be useful to compare. Thaland's lèse majesté laws and their application are therefore unique. 2) The Thai monarch cannot protect the institution itself. He cannot file a suit against anybody, therefore the state has to defend the monarchy.
Academics and Thai diplomats around the world are recruited to defend the law. Some privy councilors and royalist dignitaries go public from time to time calling for the government to intensify the enforcement of the law to fight the enemies of the monarchy.
Many are now panicking to clean up their computers and scrambling to cut off contacts among them to avoid police follow-up, what can we do to help?
There really is no way to help except by not allowing such arrests, trials, convictions and sentences to hide under government secrecy. We must not remain silent.
Thailand's opposition movement has been contacted. They do not want to take up this issue because they, too, don’t want to get into trouble.
Where are the human rights people? The answer will be long and complex. To make the answer short, they are not helpful either for the following reasons.
1) The Thai human right groups are dominated by the seniors who supported and assisted the royalist coup in 2006. They remain absolutely silent on lèse majesté issue.
2) The international human rights bodies are very bureaucratic. They take info and recommendations from their local representatives then say and do (nothing) likewise. To their credits, after years of silence and refusal to take any action, in December 2009 Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch finally issued statements regarding the human rights situation in Thailand. The lèse majesté issue was included in their reviews. We hope to see an explanation for this long-overdue action.
3. The attitudes of both the local and international human rights bodies regarding the lèse majesté law in Thailand are troubling. Only two points would suffice: A) They consider the Thai monarchy as champion of human rights. B) They do not consider the lady who got 18 year conviction for LM as a prisoner of conscience because her strong criticism of the monarchy was a “hate speech”.