Graffiti reveals Thai royal fears

BBC News




Oliver Jufer
Swiss man Oliver Jufer faces up to 75 years in jail for defacing a poster



I could tell the court officials did not want us there. Normally
Thai courts are pretty relaxed places, where journalists are free to
wander about and watch the proceedings. Not this time.


The officials were surly, and we were restricted to a few places.

We were given little information about the case of
Oliver Jufer, a 57 year-old Swiss man. But then the charges he faced were unusual; he had been arrested in December after being caught
defacing several posters with black paint.

His mistake was that the posters showed the face of King
Bhumibol Adulyadej. Insulting or criticising the monarchy is strictly
forbidden by law in Thailand. Mr Jufer faces up to 75 years’
imprisonment.

We had heard he was indignant when first arrested. He
had planned to plead not guilty. But he has clearly been advised since,
perhaps by his lawyer, or the Swiss Embassy, to change his tune.

Media blackout

Today he changed his plea to guilty, and was led out of
court looking shocked, his legs in chains, in a long line of Thai
prisoners.

His best hope now is that the judge shows leniency, or
that some kind of diplomatic, face-saving deal can be done that lets
him leave the country.

Otherwise, his lawyer said, the minimum sentence the judge can pass is seven and a half years in jail.




Many
Thais are in despair over their country, which is deeply divided over
whether [Former Prime Minister] Thaksin or the military is the worst
option

But this is not an issue the Thai authorities want discussed or debated.

When he was arrested they strongly discouraged the Thai newspapers from reporting the case. Only one did.

At one point during today’s hearing the prosecutor came
out and told us the case would be postponed, and heard later in closed
session.

“We don’t want the media,” he said. “We don’t want the
Thai people to know about this. No good result can come from their
knowing about cases concerning the king.”

It was a lie. The case was not postponed. He just hoped it might persuade us to leave.

So why are the Thai authorities so nervous? And why deal
so harshly with a man who was by all accounts drunk when he defaced the
posters?

Uncertain future

It is not as though they have to set an example. Almost
the entire population of Thailand came out to celebrate the king’s 60th
anniversary on the throne last year, in a mass outpouring of affection
and veneration I have seen nowhere else.

Nine months later you still see huge numbers of people
wearing yellow, the king’s colour, to work, to social events, even at
home.



Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Some Thais fear for the future of their revered monarchy

The respect they feel for their monarch is genuine, and
deeply-felt. Very few would wish to say anything unfavourable about the
king, which is one reason why cases of Lese Majeste are quite rare. It
would seem the law is not really needed.

Talk privately to well-educated Thais, though, and you
hear different views. Most still admire the king for his dedication to
duty, but they worry about the monarchy’s future.

The king is 79 years old and in uncertain health. His
son, the crown prince, does not enjoy the same affection that his
father does, and many Thais feel he cannot fill his father’s shoes.
These concerns are well-known in Bangkok; less so in the countryside.

The problem is that the monarchy, although a largely
symbolic institution under Thailand’s various constitutions, has been
elevated in people’s minds to the status of a national saviour.

Political divide

Politics has always been messy, and politicians are
mostly viewed as corrupt and self-serving, doing little good for the
country. Little effort is made to improve the political culture,
because people feel they can rely on the untarnished status of the king
to sort them out in times of trouble.

And times have rarely been as troubled as they are now.
The crowds offering flowers to the soldiers who led last September’s
coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra are just a faded memory.

The military-installed interim government grows less and
less popular by the day as it struggles to chart a course back to
democratic rule.

Many Thais are in despair over their country, which is
deeply divided over whether Mr Thaksin or the military is the worst
option.

At such a time no-one wants to think about the time when
they will be without the only king most people have known in their
lives.

So whatever their worries, there is no appetite to
discuss the monarchy, nor to tinker with the law that inhibits such
discussion. It’s safer, they say, to leave the law, and leave people in
no doubt that they cannot criticise the monarchy in any way, than to
see Thailand’s royals go the way of Britain’s.

It’s a perspective Oliver Jufer must wish he had kept in mind on that fateful night last December.

Main Page


March 12, 2007 – 3:17 PM

Swiss faces 75 years for insulting Thai kingAdd story to my swissinfo panel

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej

ZoomThai King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Keystone)

 


Related stories

A Swiss who defaced images of Thai King
Bhumibol Adulyadej has been convicted of lèse majesté and damaging
property and now faces up to 75 years in a Thai jail.

The
57-year-old reversed his earlier plea and pleaded guilty at a hearing
held behind closed doors to minimise the disrespect to King Bhumibol.
Sentencing was set for March 29.

 

“He has pleaded guilty to five acts of lèse majesté,” confirmed
Jacques Lauer from the Swiss embassy in Bangkok on Monday, adding that
the man’s general condition was fine.

Lèse majesté – the crime
of violating majesty, an offense against the dignity of a reigning
sovereign or against a state – carries a penalty of three to 15 years
in jail in Thailand, one of the few countries that prosecute strictly
anything deemed to demean the royal family.

The Swiss was
arrested in December in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where he has
lived for ten years, after black paint was sprayed on several portraits
of the 79-year-old king, the world’s longest-reigning monarch.

Police
reports said the Swiss was drunk when the portraits were defaced on
December 5, the king’s birthday and a national holiday.

“Revealing
the details of this case does not benefit anybody because it involves
the king and the monarchy,” said prosecutor Bhanu Kwanyuen, adding only
that the Swiss is accused of defacing five posters and faces a penalty
of between three and 15 years in prison for each one.

“In every
Thai constitution, the king is revered and worshipped, and he cannot be
insulted,” Bhanu said. “Thai people cannot accept this act of insulting
the king.”

The military launched a separate investigation into
the incident, saying the Swiss’s act raised suspicion that he was hired
by someone opposed to the coup on September 19 that ousted Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Fair cop

The Swiss, wearing orange-brown prison clothes with iron shackles on his ankles and wrists, said nothing to reporters on Monday.

He had previously blamed a German who had fled to the Philippines, but he
might have reassessed his options when told he was caught on
surveillance cameras, there were several witnesses and he had black
paint on his fingers when hauled in by police.

His guilty plea could help reduce the sentence, but he would almost certainly spend time in jail, his lawyer Komkrit Kunyodying said.

The case has received almost no coverage in the Thai press and Monday’s hearing wascovered mainly by reporters from foreign newspapers and news agencies,who were barred from the hearing.

Close Thais

King Bhumibol has a close connection to Switzerland.

In 1933 he and his family left Thailand for Switzerland, where he
continued his secondary education at the École Nouvelle de la Suisse
Romande in Chailly-sur-Lausanne. He was studying science at Lausanne
University when his elder brother was crowned King of Thailand.

For most Thais, only the most delicate portrayal of the royal family is
acceptable and foreigners are expected to show similar respect.

Other foreigners have run foul of the law occasionally, but jail terms are rare.

A French businessman was arrested in 1994 for insulting the monarchy
during a Thai Airways flight from London with two members of the royal
family on board. He was later acquitted after apologising.

swissinfo with agencies

 United Press International
United Press International®
 
News. Analysis. Insight.™

Analysis: Vive le roi, the Thai way

WASHINGTON,
March 13 (UPI) — Disregard for democracy and the rule of law may be
tolerated in Thailand. But when it comes to insulting the country’s
monarch, caution is needed or else the critic may well face prison
time.

That’s what happened to Oliver Jufer, a 57-year-old Swiss national
who could face up to 75 years in prison for violating Thailand’s
lese-majeste, otherwise known as a crime against the sovereign law.
Jufer was arrested in December for spray-painting several public
portraits of King Bhumibol Adulyadej while drunk. His hearing was held
in the northern city of Chiang Mai Monday, where he pleaded guilty to
five charges of violating the law against the sovereign. Each charge
carries a penalty of three to 15 years in jail.

While it is unlikely he would face the maximum sentence, his lawyer
Komkrit Kunyodying said that the minimum sentence Jufer could face was
seven years, particularly as he has lived in the country for over ten
years and thus should have been well aware of lese-majeste. Another
black mark against the Swiss man is that he chose to destroy the king’s
portraits on Dec. 5, the king’s birthday and a national holiday. In
addition, Jufer was caught in the act on surveillance cameras which
have been used as evidence against him. He is expected to be sentenced
at the end of this month.

The world’s longest-reigning monarch is protected by the law which
allows anyone to file a complaint with the police, and many critics
have pointed out that this has made people shy away from discussing the
monarch in public at all.

So Jufer is far from the only foreigner who has been apprehended by
the authorities for insulting the king. One of the more remarkable
cases was in 1995, when Lech Tomacz Kisielwicz of France was arrested
for making scathing comments about a Thai princess on board a Thai
Airways flight, even though the plane was traveling in international
air space at that time. He was detained for two weeks upon arrival in
Bangkok airport, and only after writing a letter of apology to the king
was he released on bail.

The king himself has expressed his concerns about the law that will not tolerate any criticism against him.

In a speech on his 73rd birthday in 2005, the king stated, “I can
be criticized that sometimes I might be wrong, so that I will know I am
wrong. If they criticize me that I am wrong, I’d like to know where it
is that I am wrong.”

But there is no doubt that for now, the draconian law continues to
survive, even under a new military regime that seized power by force.
Last September, Thailand’s army chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin led a
coup which ousted the democratically elected government of Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Yet using unorthodox ways to gain power, the military leaders too
have understood the need to adhere to tradition, and specifically to
revere the Thai monarchy which continues to occupy a unique position
among the population. Indeed, Sonthi’s first national address together
with the chiefs of the army, navy, and air force as well as the head of
the national police following the coup was made in front of giant
portraits of the king and queen. In addition, the military leaders met
with the king to inform him of the coup d’état before addressing the
country on national television, thus signaling that the new regime had
the king’s blessing.

Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that although public
disgruntlement over the current regime is rising even as it overthrew a
increasingly unpopular government led by Thaksin, there is nonetheless
little public outcry about the lese-majeste law and the role of the
monarch in general.

Indeed, while the online edition of the English language daily
Bangkok Post Tuesday led with an extensive story of the military
supporting the unelected prime minister and how the Council for
National Security is backing up the possibility of providing for a
non-elected premier in a new constitution, its coverage of the Jufer
case Monday was limited to four paragraphs.




Analysis: Thailand’s draconian lese-majeste law
By Shihoko Goto |
Published
 Yesterday
|
Religion and Culture , Human Rights , Asia and Pacific
|
Rating:

Insulating the Thai monarch a serious crime

By Shihoko Goto
Senior Business Correspondent

WASHINGTON —
Disregard for democracy and the rule of law may be tolerated in
Thailand. But when it comes to insulting the country’s monarch, caution
is needed or else the critic may well face prison time.

That’s
what happened to Oliver Jufer, a 57-year-old Swiss national who could
face up to 75 years in prison for violating Thailand’s lese-majeste,
otherwise known as a crime against the sovereign law. Jufer was
arrested in December for spray-painting several public portraits of
King Bhumibol Adulyadej while drunk. His hearing was held in the
northern city of Chiang Mai Monday, where he pleaded guilty to five
charges of violating the law against the sovereign. Each charge carries
a penalty of three to 15 years in jail.

While it is unlikely he
would face the maximum sentence, his lawyer Komkrit Kunyodying said
that the minimum sentence Jufer could face was seven years,
particularly as he has lived in the country for over ten years and thus
should have been well aware of lese-majeste. Another black mark against
the Swiss man is that he chose to destroy the king’s portraits on Dec.
5, the king’s birthday and a national holiday. In addition, Jufer was
caught in the act on surveillance cameras which have been used as
evidence against him. He is expected to be sentenced at the end of this
month.

The world’s longest-reigning monarch is protected by the
law, which allows anyone to file a complaint with the police, and many
critics have pointed out that this has made people shy away from
discussing the monarch in public at all.

So Jufer is far from
the only foreigner who has been apprehended by the authorities for
insulting the king. One of the more remarkable cases was in 1995, when
Lech Tomacz Kisielwicz of France was arrested for making scathing
comments about a Thai princess on board a Thai Airways flight, even
though the plane was traveling in international air space at that time.
He was detained for two weeks upon arrival in Bangkok airport, and only
after writing a letter of apology to the king was he released on bail.

The king himself has expressed his concerns about the law that will not tolerate any criticism against him.

In
a speech on his 73rd birthday in 2005, the king stated, “I can be
criticized that sometimes I might be wrong, so that I will know I am
wrong. If they criticize me that I am wrong, I’d like to know where it
is that I am wrong.”

But there is no doubt that for now, the draconian law continues to
survive, even under a new military regime that seized power by force.
Last September, Thailand’s army chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin led a
coup which ousted the democratically elected government of Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Yet using unorthodox ways to gain
power, the military leaders too have understood the need to adhere to
tradition, and specifically to revere the Thai monarchy, which
continues to occupy a unique position among the population. Indeed,
Sonthi’s first national address together with the chiefs of the army,
navy, and air force as well as the head of the national police
following the coup was made in front of giant portraits of the king and
queen. In addition, the military leaders met with the king to inform
him of the coup d’état before addressing the country on national
television, thus signaling that the new regime had the king’s blessing.

Perhaps
it is no surprise, then, that although public disgruntlement over the
current regime is rising even as it overthrew a increasingly unpopular
government led by Thaksin, there is nonetheless little public outcry
about the lese-majeste law and the role of the monarch in general.

Indeed,
while the online edition of the English language daily Bangkok Post
Tuesday led with an extensive story of the military supporting the
unelected prime minister and how the Council for National Security is
backing up the possibility of providing for a non-elected premier in a
new constitution, its coverage of the Jufer case Monday was limited to
four paragraphs.

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  1. I want you to know that Thailand is not the only place in the world that would arrest individual who leave graffiti over respected statues and symbols

    In the UK, they arrested a student for leaving graffiti on the statue of Winston Churchill.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/740524.stm

    And though not jailed for the same period of time, every countries are entitled to their own laws.

    It’s not a problem that you don’t agree with the law. All you have to do is not visit Thailand and don’t move here. I am a Thai citizen who latter became a US citizen… regardless of some US rules and laws I don’t agree with, when I decided to move to the US, I know that I have to respect and follow that rules and law.

    This law has been preexisting for around 100 years. Thailand has history of kings formore than 700 years (Since Sukhothai, Ayuttaya, Thonburi and then Bangkok as the capital). Kig Bhumipol is special. He’s a reserve power of Thailand of its people. We call him Phra Chao Yoo Hao means The lord above our heads. We don’t call him this because we have to… but we call him this because we feel that he deserves the title through the accumulation of his acts. We absolutely love our king and we protect him the way we know how.

    The king is in our heart and while we are known as the land of smile and welcome our visitors… we ask that any visitors to Thailand, follow and observe Thai rules. Just as we will follow and observe your rules when we visit your country.

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