Your Royal Highness,
I was intrigued to learn that earlier this year the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) appointed you as Goodwill Ambassador on the Rule of Law for Southeast Asia.
The UNODC claim that your appointment would help “to raise the profile of, and support for, development efforts that address the impact of crime on society, and that contribute to justice reform”. The UNODC’s Executive Director, Yury Fedotov, stated that you had “invaluable experience that enables her [i.e. you] to speak with authority on the need for effective, accountable and inclusive institutions”.
Apparently, the UNODC’s understanding of the “rule of law” and “justice reform” has its limits. It may have failed to notice that lèse-majesté charges have been skyrocketing in Thailand, particularly after the 2014 coup.
According to records compiled by Thailand’s Freedom of Expression Documentation Center, there have been at least 73 persons prosecuted under Article 112 of the Criminal Code for exercising their freedom of expression since the 2014 coup. A total of 18 were granted bail, while 28 were refused. At least 11 were deprived of a chance to bid for bail due to inadequate resources. There are another 16 for whom it remains unclear whether they had bid for their bail or not. For more details on the statistics of those charged under lèse-majesté law, you may consult the Center’s website.
Among the latest cases is that of Jatupat Boonpataraksa, or Pai Dao Din, a law student from Khon Kaen University. He has been imprisoned for sharing an article from the BBC, a short biography of your father, King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Currently, Pai is struggling to obtain the right to bail during an ongoing investigation. He is the only person being charged among the thousands who shared the same article. This suggests that Pai was specifically targeted.
In a similar case from May this year, Prawet Prapanukul, 57, a prominent Thai human rights lawyer, was arrested on lèse-majesté charges and could face a prison term of up to 150 years if convicted on 10 counts of royal defamation. The other 5 persons who were also arrested at the same time were Saran, a 54 year old university lecturer; Chatchawan, a 24 year old law student; Danai, a 34 year old man from Chiang Mai; Wanchai, a 42 year old man, and Panit, a 26 year old secondary school teacher.
In more recent cases, Wichai, 34, has been jailed for 35 years for Facebook posts considered to be insulting to the royal family. A Thai military court convicted him of 10 counts of lèse-majesté for posting photos and video of your father walking in a German mall with his rumoured mistress Koi, while wearing a tiny tank top that barely covered a massive fake tattoo.
And on 26 June, the Commission of Jurisdiction of Courts decided that a lèse-majesté suspect accused of mocking Thongdaeng, the dog of your grandfather, the late king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, would be tried in a military court. In today’s Thailand, even making fun of a dog could lead to lèse-majesté charges.
You have remarked: “My appointment as a Goodwill Ambassador offers the opportunity to champion UN positions on the rule of law and fairness in criminal justice systems, and to help achieve the bold vision of the 2030 Agenda. I look forward to working with the UNODC Southeast Asia team to reduce crime and violence, protect vulnerable groups and challenge corruption, while contributing to efforts to strengthen the rule of law.”
Your Royal Highness, I wonder if you could do anything to improve the lèse-majesté situation in Thailand.
Some of those who worked under your father—people whom you likely know personally—were arrested and humiliated in front of the Thai media. Some died mysteriously while under detention. Allow me to remind you that Suriyan Sucharitpolwong, better known by his soothsayer name Mor Yong, Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha, and Major General Phisitsak Seniwong Na Ayutthaya, all were charged with lèse-majesté and died in their cells. Police General Jumpol Manmai was also arrested on lèse-majesté. He was sent to the notorious Dhaveevatthana Prison to be “re-educated”. Emerging from a prison, Jumpol was ordered to have his head shaved. The ex-wife of your father, Srisasmi, is now placed under house arrest. Her entire family, except her sister, was imprisoned on lèse-majesté. No human rights organisations are permitted to visit her. The Thai public knows little about her wellbeing.
I, together with Dr Somsak Jeamteerasakul and former journalist Andrew Macgregor Marshall, have recently been declared persona non grata online. We have been labeled as critics of the monarchy. Surely we have been accused of lèse-majesté. In my case, the Thai state revoked my passport. I am unable to return home.
Might I suggest that your first mission as Goodwill Ambassador on the Rule of Law is to investigate the distortions in the Thai legal system, to seriously consider whether the offence of lèse-majesté is in any way compatible with modern notions of the rule of law, and to ensure that members of the monarchy will respect the law—just as ordinary Thais are expected to do.
If you are unwilling to include the above issues in your work as an ambassador for the UNODC—an institution that claims to help protect the world’s citizens from legal abuses—then not only will this damage your personal reputation as a legal scholar, but also bring shame to Thai legal institutions as a whole. Under these circumstances, you might consider whether it’s not best to resign from such a prestigious position at the UNODC.
Indeed, one wonders how the UNODC came to the decision to appoint you as an ambassador for the Rule of Law. It looks like the organisation failed to do its research on the human rights situation in Thailand. Might I suggest that they keep track of the work done by groups like the Freedom of Expression Documentation Centre and others to highlight the damage the application of lèse-majesté laws inflicts on the rule of law in Thailand. The appointment of a prominent beneficiary of such a law to serve as someone championing fairness in the judicial system is odd, to say the least.
Yours in exile,
Pavin Chachavalpongpun is associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.
Header image: via @iLawClub on Facebook.