Red shirts send strong signal

straitimes

 
 
February 01, 2009 Sunday, 12:02 PM
Nirmal Ghosh witnesses a pro-democracy rally in Bangkok.
 
 
Nirmal Ghosh
Thailand Correspondent

THAILAND’S pro-democracy ”red shirts” began gathering at Sanam Luang around midday on Saturday for their scheduled rally. I got there at around 5.30pm and found well over 10,000 people. By the time I left two hours later it had reached over 30,000. Organisers claimed it had reached 50,000.
 
I bumped into former National Human Rights Commissioner Jaran Ditta-apichai who supports the reds, behind the stage. In the course of our chat he said ”Even if Thaksin (Shinawatra) stops fighting, the red movement will go on. Reds are not fighting for any leader, they fight for an ideology.”
 
And as we parted he added cryptically : ”The ultimate ideology.”
 
Later professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn turned up as well, wearing a black T-shirt with a red baseball cap. He had joined the reds, he said.
 
I had a longish talk with him. He agreed that several issues including the lese majeste issue, were converging under the banner of the pro-democracy reds (see my report at http://www.straitstimes.com/News/World/Story/STIStory_332830.html?sunwMethod=GET)
 
In the course of talking about the composition of the red shirts, Giles who has always been critical of Thaksin for his human rights abuses, said ”Being pro-Thaksin doesn’t mean people are puppets of Thaksin, or are being paid by Thaksin. The movement is beyond Thaksin, it’s a movement for democracy and a better future.”
 
The royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) had its mass base in the middle class ”led by ultra-royalists who believe in nation, religion and king. They represent the elite, and want to reduce the democratic space.”


Jakrapob Penkair (left) meets Giles Ji Ungpakorn (right)  
SOURCE: Nirmal Ghosh

I followed prof Giles up on to the stage and took a picture of him greeting Jakrapob Penkair. To me that moment was one of many symbolic ones of the last three years of political turmoil in Thailand : Jakrapob and Giles both face lese majeste charges. In that moment, the lese majeste issue converged with the issue of democracy.
 
I left soon thereafter to write up my report. When I was done I met a couple of friends for a quiet chat, but then the text messages started coming in, from photographer Nick Nostitz and Bloomberg’s Dan Ten Kate who were among the very few foreign journalists on the scene. The reds were on the march and nearing Makkawan bridge where the police had an elaborate barricade of barbed wire.
 
I left immediately, and on the way was told the reds had broken through the barricade. There had been some tense moments and a few scuffles, and someone had used pepper spray in the melee. Reuters photographer Adrees Latif got a face full of it, but he wasn’t sure who had discharged it.


Supporters were in a mood of calm defiance  
SOURCE: Nick Nostitz

I arrived in the middle of a column of red shirts marching towards Government House, and joined them. A truck with red activists speaking from it through a sound system, slowly rumbled up the road surrounded by a sea of red, many of them women, and with quite a few children as well. The mood was one of calm defiance. There were no weapons in sight. Many were holding hands. It was around 1130pm.
 
They fetched up against a second police cordon on the bridge right next to Government House. In a few minutes the cordon opened up and the reds started filtering through. I followed them through and saw many of the police officers there smiling and laughing (the police were demoralized by their enforced impotence vis a vis the PAD, and many are sympathetic to the reds).


Soldiers in riot gear formed up to meet the protestors  
SOURCE: Nick Nostitz


Red shirts broke through the barricades around Government House  
SOURCE: Nick Nostitz

Then Veera disappeared, and former government spokesman Nattawit Saikuar, flanked by Jakrapob wearing a red T-shirt with the word Dictator on it crossed out in black, began haranguing the general and other police officers from the top of the lead truck.
 
The excitement seemed to mount then, and at the stroke of midnight Nattawut let out a roar and the truck he was on – and the crowd – surged forward and toppled the fence just a few feet in front of us. We turned and ran helter skelter to avoid being caught in the surge. For the first time since a motorcycle accident on Jan 12, 2008 that broke my leg, I found myself running!
 
We trotted into Government House, where the lawns have been newly restored after the PAD’s months-long occupation last year. The grass has yet to grow back though.


Pro-democracy supporters face off with soldiers
SOURCE: Nick Nostitz

There were hundreds of soldiers in the compound, with riot control gear. Soldiers relaxing on the ground stood and formed up, in a solid phalanx on the inside of the ornate fence. The red shirts filled up the road outside, and leaders began reading out their demands.
 
Then, with no attempt to get into Government House, they simply started dispersing. The trucks started up and rolled off, four of them in an ocean of red.
 
At no point was there the threat that things would go out of control, partly because none of the reds was armed in the manner that the PAD ”guards” were last year. So there was little provocation. And the reds retained the moral high ground by not invading Government House as the PAD had done – a factor crucial to their public image.

Economist magazine blocked in Thailand again

reuterUK

Fri Jan 30, 2009 10:20am GMT

By Ed Cropley

BANGKOK (Reuters) – The Economist’s distributors in Thailand are refusing to circulate the current affairs magazine for a second week running because of an article critical of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the army.

The article, entitled ‘A sad slide backwards’, takes Thailand to task for its “astoundingly callous” handling of 1,000 Muslim Rohingya migrants from Myanmar, 500 of whom are feared to have died after being towed out to sea by the army and cast adrift.

“Our distributor in Thailand has decided not to distribute The Economist this week due to our coverage being sensitive,” the weekly’s Hong Kong spokesman, Ian Fok, said Friday.

A spokesman for the distributor, Asia Books, was not immediately available for comment. A police spokesman said he was unaware of any official ban.

Unlike with previous editions of the magazine that have not been circulated, this week’s article makes only cursory mention of the taboo topic of royal involvement in politics and draconian lese majeste laws.

Most of its criticism is aimed at the army and the Oxford-educated Abhisit, whose rise to power last month owes much to the military’s 2006 coup against Thaksin Shinawatra and its machinations against the previous government.

The article also suggests the United States should threaten to move its annual Cobra Gold regional war games from Thailand — a hangover from its Vietnam War-era alliance that begins next week — to send a signal to Bangkok’s generals.

“The Cold War is long over,” the article said.

The Economist suffered a similar bar on distribution last week because of local objections to an article about the lese majeste conviction and three-year jail term handed down on a little-read Australian author.

During his six weeks in office, Abhisit has made much of his commitment to human rights and the rule of law, although his government has shut down more than 2,000 websites deemed critical of the monarchy.

A prominent leftist academic has also been charged with lese majeste — which carries up to 15 years in jail — for comments made in a 2007 book about the previous year’s military coup.

Critics and freedom of speech advocates say the government’s crusade to protect the crown in the twilight years of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s six decade reign is a pretext to crush political dissent and opposition.

(Editing by Darren Schuettler and David Fox)

A Cat Can’t Look at a Queen

AsiaSentinel 

Written by Our Correspondent

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

 

ImageNot in Thailand, anyway, or it can get you arrested

Additional names of individuals in jail have surfaced in Thailand on charges of insulting the royalty, for offences as slight as not standing up for the royal anthem in a movie theater in Bangkok. According to a Thailand-based website on political prisoners named nine individuals in jail. Another two, one an Australian teacher, have already been sentenced to long prison terms.

With the Thai monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej, growing more infirm at the age of 82, there appears to be a growing power struggle for succession between forces aligned with the unpopular Crown Prince, Maha Vajiralongkorn, and his sister, Maha Chakri Sirindorn. Queen Sirikit in particular has become deeply enmeshed in politics, intervening publicly on the side of forces that successfully overthrew the popularly elected government supported by ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was previously driven from power by a royalist-backed military coup in October 2006. With the palace involved in the political situation, protecting the monarchy’s reputation has become a priority.

The website, Political Prisoners in Thailand (http://thaipoliticalprisoners.wordpress.com/) has been blocked in Thailand. Insulting the king or anyone connected to him can result n a prison term of three to 15 years. Recently, the Australian teacher, Harry Nicolaides, was sentenced to three years for a paragraph in a book that sold seven copies, according to the website. Also sentenced last November to 12 years in prison was Boonyuen Prasertying, who was charged after speeches she made at a pro-Thaksin rally. Her sentence was reduced to six years as a result of her confession. At least two individuals have fled rather than face charges, and two bloggers under the names “Phraya Pichai” and “Thonchan” are said to be held quietly in custody without being charged, according to the website.

Most of the names have been known. Latest among them is Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a Chulalongkorn University political science professor and writer who has written several pieces charging the royalty with being behind the October coup. He was ordered to appear at a Bangkok police station on Jan. 20, to be charged for a series of passages in his book, “A Coup for the Rich.” Ungpakorn, many of whose articles have appeared in Asia Sentinel, has chosen to fight the charges publicly, sending out a blizzard of releases to foreign organizations and readers, asking them to put pressure on the Thai government to cease using the lèse majesté charge as a political weapon to quell dissent. When Amnesty International declined to take up lèse majesté cases, apparently over visa concerns, he asked readers to “consider switching to some other human rights organization.”

A second prominent figure is Jakropob Penkair, a former spokesman for Thaksin, who was accused of insulting the royalty at a speech before the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand that seemed as much aimed at Prem Tinsulanonda, the king’s privy counselor. The speech can be found here: http://thaipoliticalprisoners.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/jakrapob-at-the-fcct1.pdf

From there down, it is remarkable how fine the mills of Thai justice grind in seeking out growing dissent. Almost 3,000 websites that carry information critical of the royalty have been shut down, and more will be, authorities say.

The others imprisoned, according to the website, are these:

  • Chotisak Onsoong, 26, and a female friend were charged last April after a member of the audience in a Bangkok theater complained the couple had not stood during the ritual playing of the royal anthem. The case apparently grew out of a heated argument when they were urged to stand up by the bystander. The couple later filed a complaint against the man, saying they had been verbally and physically abused. He retaliated by filing the lèse majesté complaint. Chotisak remains in jail while his case is being investigated.
  • Jitra Kotchadej, a union activist and friend of Chotisak’s, she was fired in August from the clothing factory where she worked, according to the website, in August, for appearing on a TV panel discussion wearing a T-shirt saying “Not standing is not a crime,” a reference to Chotisak. It is not known if she has been charged by police.
  • Sulak Sivaraksa, a 75-year-old academic and long-time critic of the use of lèse majesté charges, was taken from his Bangkok home late one night in November 2008 and driven 450 km to a police station in the northeast province of Khon Kaen, where he was charged for insulting the monarchy for a December, 2007 lecture. It was the third time Sulak has been charged, the first in 1984 although the case was later withdrawn after an international outcry. In 1991, he was arrested after a speech in which he attacked the military coup that overthrew the government. Sulak fought the case until he won, in 1995. Other allegations were made against Sulak in 2006.
  • Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, known in Bangkok as “Da Torpedo,” Darunee, a pro-Thaksin and self-proclaimed pro-democracy campaigner, was arrested in July after a 30-minute speech denouncing the 2006 coup and the monarchy. She is still behind bars, although it is not known if she has been formally charged, the website said.
  • Suwicha Thakor was arrested on Jan. 14 on suspicion of posting comments on the Internet that insulted the monarchy.
  • The final suspect is Sondhi Limthongkul, a Thai media tycoon who played an integral role in bringing down the democratically elected People’s Power Party government that came to power in the wake of the coup against Thaksin. A leader of the royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy. The PAD was responsible for the mob that closed Bangkok’s two airports and ultimately caused the collapse of the government. Sondhi is said to be particularly close to Queen Sirikit. Few observers expect Sondhi to actually be charged. He was cited for repeating some of Da Torpedo’s speech.

FACTBOX: Lese majeste cases in Thailand

 clip_image001

Tue Jan 20, 2009 4:16am EST

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai police formally charged leading leftist commentator Giles Ungpakorn on Tuesday with insulting the king, the latest in a slew of lese majeste cases critics say are stifling dissent and freedom of speech.

Following are details of some of those who have recently fallen foul of the law, which carries between 3 and 15 years in prison for insults or threats to the deeply revered monarchy.

In many cases, the status of the investigation is unclear due to police reluctance to discuss the taboo issue of the monarchy’s role in politics, which is officially nil.

JAKRAPOB PENKAIR – A spokesman for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Jakrapob had to resign as a minister in the pro-Thaksin government in May after being accused of slandering the king in a talk at Bangkok’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

JONATHAN HEAD – The British BBC correspondent in Bangkok has received three lese majeste complaints. One was related to an online BBC story not written by Head which did not place the photograph of the king at the top of the page, as is customary in Thailand.

CHOTISAK ONSOONG – The young political activist was accused by police in April of insulting the monarchy for refusing to stand during the royal anthem that precedes all movie screenings in Thailand.

JITRA KOTCHADEJ – A union activist and friend of Chotisak, Jitra was fired by bosses at her clothing factory in August for appearing on a TV panel discussion wearing a T-shirt saying “Not standing is not a crime,” a reference to Chotisak.

It is not known if she has been charged by police.

SULAK SIVARAKSA – A leading academic and long-time critic of the lese majeste law, the 75-year-old was taken from his Bangkok home late one night in November and driven 450 km (280 miles) to a police station in the northeast province of Khon Kaen.

There, he was charged with insulting the monarchy in a university lecture he gave in December the previous year.

HARRY NICOLAIDES – An Australian author, English teacher and long-time resident of Thailand, Nicolaides was sentenced to three years in jail this week for defaming the crown prince in his 2005 novel, ‘Verisimilitude’. Only seven copies of the book were sold.

DARUNEE CHARNCHOENGSILPAKUL – More commonly known as “Da Torpedo,” the pro-Thaksin campaigner was arrested in July after delivering an exceptionally strong 30-minute speech denouncing the 2006 coup and the monarchy.

She is thought still to be behind bars, although it is not known if she has been formally charged.

SUWICHA THAKHOR – Suwicha was arrested last week on suspicion of posting comments on the Internet that insulted the monarchy. His arrest coincided with a speech by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva saying the law should not be abused.

OLIVER JUFER – The Swiss national was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2007 for spraying black paint on huge public portraits of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He was pardoned and deported after serving four months.

(Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Sanjeev Miglani)

Author guilty of Thai king insult

clip_image001

Monday, January 19, 2009
11:09 Mecca time, 08:09 GMT

Nicolaides said the novel was his take on political and social life in contemporary Thailand [Reuters]

 

A court in Thailand has sentenced an Australian author to three years in jail after finding him guilty of insulting the country’s royal family.

Appearing in a Bangkok court house on Monday, Harry Nicolaides, had pleaded guilty to the charges, related to a 2005 novel he authored which reportedly sold just seven copies.

He was convicted under Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws, designed to protect the royal family but which activists say are outdated and stifle free speech.

Passing the court’s verdict, the judge initially sentenced Nicolaides to six years in jail, but reduced the sentence to three years because of his guilty plea.

Speaking in court earlier, Nicolaides, who was shackled at the ankles and wore a prison uniform, said he had endured “unspeakable suffering” since his arrest five months ago and that the case had taken a toll on his health and family.

“I would like to apologise,” he said, breaking down in tears. “This can’t be real. It feels like a bad dream.”

He said he had “unqualified respect for the king of Thailand” and had not intended to insult him.

The case comes as Thai authorities step up prosecutions under the country’s controversial laws on lese majeste or insulting the monarchy, which mandates a severe sentence for “whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent”.

He had faced a jail term of up to 15 years.

Arrest

“I would like to apologise. This can’t be real. It feels like a bad dream”

Harry Nicolaides

Nicolaides, who lived in Thailand from 2003-2005 and taught in the northern city of Chiang Rai, was arrested in August at Bangkok’s international airport as he was about to board a flight home to Melbourne.

The author was unaware of a warrant issued in March for his arrest in connection with his novel, Verisimilitude, rights group Reporters Without Borders said.

The group had urged the Thai authorities to drop the charges against him and to release him.

Nicolaides has described his book as a commentary on political and social life of contemporary Thailand, saying it was “never intended to threaten or defame the royal family”.

Laws ‘outdated’

Critics say the laws against insulting Thailand’s royal family are outdated [AFP]

Several academics, authors and journalists are also currently facing similar charges under the lese majeste laws.

Free speech activists have condemned the laws as outdated, saying it has no place in a democracy.

Sulak Sivaraksa, a Bangkok-based social activist, said many people were critical of the strict monarchy laws in private but did not have the courage to speak up openly about changing it.
 
“The lese majeste laws have mostly been used by politicians to get rid of or to silence the opposition,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that even the king had a few years ago said that the law was harmful to him and detrimental to the monarchy.

“I think we should be brave to do something to have this law changed,” Sulak said.

“Unfortunately in this country the people generally have no moral courage.”

Giles Ungpakorn, a Thai academic who is himself facing charges of lese majeste, said the laws undermined democratic rights to free speech.

“This law is not about protecting the monarchy, it’s about certain groups trying to protect their privilege and their power,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Thailand is supposed to be a democracy. And in a democracy you’re supposed to be entitled to free speech.”

The severity of the lese majeste laws was highlighted last year when a Swiss man, apparently acting in a drunken frenzy, was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years for defacing images of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-serving monarch.

He was pardoned by the king after serving about a month in jail.

Last week Thailand’s new prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, told reporters the monarchy had to be protected because it has “immense benefits to the country as a stabilising force”, adding that his government would try to ensure the law is not abused.

 

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Thailand sentences writer for insults
International Herald Tribune, France – By Seth Mydans and Mark McDonald BANGKOK: An Australian writer was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for insulting the Thai monarchy in a
Thailand jails Australian for insulting monarchy
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom – An Australian writer has been sentenced to three years in jail in Thailand for insulting the monarchy. By Thomas Bell in Bangkok Harry Nicolaides, 41,
Melbourne writer jailed for insulting Thai royals
The Age, Australia – Harry Nicolaides waits in a Thai cell for his trial on charges of maligning Thailand’s king. He was later found guilty and sentenced to three years in
Jailed For Insulting Thai Prince
Sky News, UK – An Australian man has been jailed for three years for insulting a Thai monarch in a novel that sold just seven copies. Harry Nicolaides was handed the
Australian writer sentenced for insulting Thai king
CBC.ca, Canada – An Australian writer has been sentenced to three years in prison for insulting Thailand’s royal family in a novel he wrote. Bangkok’s Criminal Court handed
Australian author jailed for insulting Thai king
Radio Netherlands, Netherlands – In Thailand, an Australian author has been sentenced to prison for three years for lese majesty. A Bangkok judge has ruled that Harry Nicolaides insulted
Thai court sentences Australian author to three years in jail on
Xinhua, China – BANGKOK, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) — A Bangkok criminal court on Monday sentenced an Australian author to three years in jail for his remarks in a novel found
Aussie Jailed For Insulting Thai Royal
Bernama, Malaysia – By D. Arul Rajoo BANGKOK, Jan 19 (Bernama) — An Australian writer, who had taught English at a university in the northern city of Chiang Mai,
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eTaiwan News, Taiwan – AP A Thai court has convicted an Australian writer of insulting Thailand’s royal family in his novel and ordered him to serve a three-year prison term.
Aussie jailed for insulting King
NEWS.com.au, Australia – By staff writers AUSTRALIAN author Harry Nicolaides has been sentenced to three years in a Thai jail for insulting the nation’s monarch in a novel.
Australian jailed for three years for insulting Thai king
AFP – BANGKOK (AFP) — A Thai court on Monday sentenced an Australian writer to three years in jail after finding him guilty of insulting Thailand’s revered royal
Writer Harry Nicolaides jailed for insulting Thai king
Times Online, UK – An Australian writer has been sentenced to three years in a Thai jail after pleading guilty to lese-majeste charges for insulting the country’s King.
Author charged over Thailand insult
Aljazeera.net, Qatar – An Australian author has pleaded guilty to charges of insulting the Thai royal family in a novel that reportedly sold only seven copies.
Australian pleads guilty in Thai royal insult case
Reuters India, India – BANGKOK (Reuters) – An Australian writer pleaded guilty to defaming Thailand’s crown prince on Monday and faces up to 15 years in jail when he is sentenced
Man who insulted Thai monarch jailed for 3yrs
ABC Online, Australia – By South East Asia correspondent Karen Percy An Australian man has been sentenced to three years jail in Bangkok after pleading guilty to insulting the Thai
Australian faces jail for insulting Thai monarchy
The Associated Press – BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — An Australian writer pleaded guilty Monday to criminal charges of insulting Thailand’s royal family in his 2005 novel,
Aust man to plead guilty in Thai lese-majesty trial
ABC Online, Australia – By South East Asia correspondent Karen Percy An Australian man facing court in Bangkok on charges of insulting Thailand’s monarchy has told reporters
Australian man to face Thai court over royal insult claims
Radio Australia, Australia – An Australian man, Harry Nicolaides, is due to appear in a Bangkok court today charged with insulting Thailand’s royal family. Mr Nicolaides published a
Australian to face court over Thai royal insult
ABC Online, Australia – By South East Asia correspondent Karen Percy An Australian charged with insulting the Thai monarchy will appear in a Bangkok court today.
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Phuket Gazette, Thailand – Bangkok (The Nation): A Thai court sentenced an Australian author to three years imprisonment on a lêse majesté charge this afternoon.
Aussie author gets jail term for ‘insulting’ Thai monarchy
RTT News, NY – (RTTNews) – An Australian author, who pleaded guilty to insulting the Thai monarchy, has been sentenced to three years in jail.
Australian author gets 3-year jail term in Thailand over lese
Southeast Asian Press Alliance, Thailand – A Thai court sentenced an Australian author to three years’ imprisonment for insulting a member of the royal family, media reports said.
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ShortNews.com, Germany – Australian author Harry Nicolaides, 41, has been sentenced to three years in a Thai prison after a book he wrote was deemed to insult the Thai king.
Political repression in Thailand Pt1
Real News Network, NY – Giles Ji Ungpakorn describes his recent summons for Lese Majeste charges in Thailand for insulting the King of Thailand in his book ” A Coup for the Rich.
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Green Left Weekly, Australia – Jan 17, 2009
Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a political science professor at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University and a well-known socialist activist, has been ordered to appear at
Australian teacher jailed for three years after insulting Thai king
guardian.co.uk, UK –A court in Thailand today sentenced an Australian man to three years in prison for insulting the country’s revered monarchy, in one of the few conviction of
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The Associated Press – BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — An Australian writer was sentenced Monday to three years in prison for insulting Thailand’s royal family in his novel,
Melbourne man jailed in Thailand
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Writer jailed for Thai ‘insult’
BBC News, UK –Australian writer Harry Nicolaides has been sentenced to three years in a Thai jail for insulting the monarchy. Nicolaides wrote a novel four years ago,
Author Harry Nicolaides to plead guilty to Thai royal insult
The Australian, Australia – Article from: Australian AP AN Australian writer who says he’s endured “unspeakable suffering” in a Thai jail will plead guilty to criminal charges of
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AFP – BANGKOK (AFP) — A Thai court on Monday jailed an Australian writer for three years for insulting the royal family in a novel, the latest case to highlight
Melbourne author Harry Nicolaides to plead in Thai court
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TREND Information, Azerbaijan – A Bangkok court on Monday sentenced an Australian author to three years in jail for allegedly insulting the Thai monarchy in his novel Verisimilitude
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Australia Network News, Australia – Judges in Thailand have sentenced an Australian man to three years in jail for insulting the Thai monarchy. Harry Nicolaides, 41, had pleaded guilty to
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LIVENEWS.com.au, Australia – An Australian writer who says he’s endured “unspeakable suffering” in a Thai prison has been jailed for three years after pleading guilty to criminal

Thai writer: End prosecution for ‘insulting king’

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By GRANT PECK , 01.13.09, 11:18 AM EST

A Thai academic facing charges of insulting the monarchy called Tuesday for a campaign to abolish the law under which he could be jailed for 15 years.

Ji Ungpakorn, a prominent activist and political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said police have asked to question him over a book he wrote about Thailand’s 2006 military coup.

His case is the latest sign of ideological struggle over the role of the monarchy, a subject that was once taboo. There has been a recent spate of complaints and prosecutions for lese majeste – as the charge is called – and increased censorship of Web sites allegedly critical of the institution.

Those who have faced lese majeste complaints in the past year include a fledgling Australian novelist, a BBC reporter, a prominent Buddhist intellectual and an activist who refused to stand up during the traditional playing of the Royal Anthem (nyse: ATHnews people ) before a movie.

Ji said at a news conference that the lese majeste law, which mandates a jail term of three to 15 years for defaming the king, the queen or the heir to the throne, “restricts freedom of speech and expression and does not allow for public accountability and transparency of the institution of the monarchy.”

He charged that it is used “as a tool by the military, and other authoritarian elites, in order to protect their own interests.” He claimed he was being targeted for political reasons because he criticized the military and its coup.

Newly elected Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has promised to take “all measures” to prevent people from defaming the monarchy.

But Ji, who is the son of one of the most respected civil servants in modern Thailand, the late Central Bank Governor Puey Ungpakorn, called for “an international and national political campaign to defend democratic rights in Thailand and for the abolition of the Lese Majeste law.”

Until recently, prosecutions under the law have been uncommon – usually a handful a year – not surprising in a country where the 81-year-old king is almost universally revered as a selfless and hardworking benefactor of the people.

But questions about the monarchy have assumed a higher profile lately as consideration is given to the eventual succession of Bhumibol, the world’s longest serving head of state and the only monarch most Thais have ever lived under.

Although he is a constitutional monarch who reigns but does not rule, Bhumibol – with the backing of the military – has since the 1960s held commanding political influence, usually exercised only in times of national crisis.

But his influence was challenged by the rise of billionaire politician Thaksin Shinawatra, who became prime minister in 2001 and whose party won an unprecedented absolute majority in Parliament in a 2005 general election. Thaksin won the devotion of the country’s rural majority with populist policies that directly benefited them, such as low-cost universal health care.

One of the reasons the army gave for ousting Thaksin was a claim that he had treated the king with disrespect.

When Thaksin’s political allies regained power in a December 2007 general election, the fight over the former prime minister was revived, and his critics again claimed to be defending the monarchy in their bid to remove all those connected with Thaksin from power. Their confrontational protests culminated in the weeklong occupation of Bangkok’s two airports at the end of last year.

Thai man arrested for Internet comments on king

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The Associated Press

Published: January 15, 2009

BANGKOK, Thailand: A Thai man has been arrested on charges of insulting the monarchy and could face up to 15 years in prison under a harsh lese majeste law that is being used with more frequency, police said Thursday.

Suwicha Thakhor was arrested Wednesday for allegedly posting messages insulting the monarchy on the Internet, but the suspect denied the allegation, said Police Maj. Gen. Thawi Sodsong, director general of the Department of Special Investigation.

Police did not name the Web sites involved or describe what allegedly violated the country’s harsh lese majeste law — which is intended to protect the royal institution.

New Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva gave a speech Wednesday saying his government would try to ensure that the law, which carries a penalty of three to 15 years imprisonment, is not be abused. But he said the monarchy must be protected because it has “immense benefits to the country as a stabilizing force.”

There has been a recent spate of lese majeste complaints and prosecutions, and increased censorship of Web sites allegedly critical of the Thai monarchy.

Public discussion of the monarchy’s role was once taboo in Thailand, but the issue has assumed a higher profile lately as consideration has been given to who will succeed 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-serving head of state.

Bhumibol is credited as being the nation’s unifying force during times of crisis, though he has no major official role in politics. He has great influence because of the immense respect he commands from most Thais.

Abhisit has also urged moderation in enforcing Internet censorship, though he said the authorities will continue to block sites that insult the monarchy.

Ji Ungpakorn, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University facing lese majeste charges, called Tuesday for a campaign to abolish the lese majeste law.

He said he will be questioned by police next week because of a book he wrote about Thailand’s 2006 military coup that ousted elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Others who have recently faced lese majeste complaints include Thai activist Chotisak Onsoong, who was summonsed in April 2008 for refusing to stand up during the playing of the Royal Anthem before a movie, and Sulak Sivaraksa, a prominent Buddhist intellectual who was arrested in November for questioning whether lavish official celebrations of the king’s reign were an appropriate way to honor the monarchy.

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