Despite the wise old saying, in Thailand the dogs will always bite you.
When I was growing up in Thailand, I was taught many Thai proverbs by my teachers and asked to strictly adhere to such maxims.
These gems of common sense included the following:
A man is like the forelegs of an elephant, while a female is like the hind legs.
That’s to say, a woman must always conform, follow and be docile.
Another one similarly plays on the animal motif:
Always follow the elders and the dogs won’t bite you.
Simply, never question the elders and you will be fine.
These are only two of many such teachings that elder Thais have forced on younger generations for ages.
Looking over the above statements, which are still being taught in Thai schools, it’s no wonder Thais are the most passive people in the world.
Despite this, I still find it so sad to see that they do not dare to rise up and claim their rights.
Obviously the proverbial BS behind these proverbs isn’t all to blame.
Years and years of oppression and abuse and the way Thai children are brought up, has been coupled with the systematic creation of fear by the military under the watchful eyes of the king, his family and his inner sanctum, including the Privy Council.
But now, the political situation in Thailand is getting worse by the hour, particularly under the latest military regime led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha.
General Prayuth, a staunch monarchist, couldn’t have been placed in his unchallenged position without the latent approval of the palace. Indeed, a day after he seized power from Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014, he had an audience with King Bhumibol, which gave him full endorsement for his coup as well as legitimacy as the new head of government.
Ever since we have seen a dramatic deterioration of political rights and personal freedoms in Thailand.
On Sunday 13 December, a group of plain-clothed military and police arrested an unarmed 25-year-old student activist, Thanet Anantawong.
A student of political science at Thammasart University, Thanet had been collecting information about the infamous statues of former Thai kings installed by the military in Rajabhakti Park.
The project, overseen by General Udomdej Sritrabutra, has fast descended into farce and one of the worst corruption scandals in recent memory.
Thanet was dragged away from hospital, where he was being treated for a kidney problem, and accused of defaming the monarchy when, in fact, he hadn’t uttered a word against any past or current king.
But for simply collecting information about the scandal, he has been charged with Article 112 (lese majeste), as well as inciting disorder and the computer crimes act.
The following day, on Monday 14 December, it emerged that a factory worker had been charged with sedition and for insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s favourite dog, Thongdaeng, even though the lese majeste law does not cover royals’ pets.
Thanakorn Siripaiboon also faces separate charges of sedition under section 116 of the Penal Code for online postings alleging that members of Prayuth’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order junta are corrupt.
If he is found guilty, he faces up to 37 years in prison.
And last Tuesday, a military court sentenced a single mother, known as Chayapha, to seven years in jail for posting material on Facebook deemed to be insulting to the king.
As to why there are so many cases of lese majeste under this military regime, I can only extrapolate that it might be payback time.
General Prayuth, having come from a poor and low-level military family, has been groomed by the royal family ever since he was in the Chulachomklao Military School.
His father held a rank of sergeant before he retired, and Prayuth is associated with the queen’s guard faction. He has always been close to the royal family, and is probably grateful to the king and queen for his current position as PM.
What better way to display his gratitude and loyalty than through the arbitrary prosecution of lese majeste, no matter how ridiculous the cases may be.
Or maybe there’s another reason. Maybe Thailand has finally simply become barking mad.
Chatwadee Rose Amornpat is Thai charged with lese majeste.