From The Times:
Thailand’s drastic use of lèse-majesté laws is damaging the monarchy and freedom.
Respect is one thing. It is not only Thais who revere King Bhumibol, the 81-year-old monarch who has reigned for more than 60 years and is the world’s longest-serving head of state; many foreigners also admire the way he has, usually discreetly, exercised a moderating influence to stabilise Thailand’s turbulent politics. But the country’s laws on lèse-majesté and the draconian way in which they are presently applied elevate respect to an unhealthy and undemocratic cult of personality. And the three-year jail sentence passed yesterday on an Australian who referred, glancingly but unflatteringly, to the Crown Prince in a book that sold a total of seven copies is a grotesque abuse of the law and the institution of constitutional monarchy.
King Bhumibol’s popularity is based in large part on his self-restraint. But in recent years politicians have tried to appropriate his authority and presumed views to undermine their opponents. The military coup against Thaksin Shinawatra was said to have royal backing; and those who led the noisy campaign against the ousted Prime Minister’s party and successors smeared their opponents as anti-monarchists. Willy-nilly, the King has been drawn into the intrigues. Little wonder that criticism is rising and speculation on the succession taking on a hostile tinge.
The response has been a drastic invocation of lèse-majesté, the suppression of about 2,300 websites and an almost paranoid reaction to all discussion, even by foreign journalists, of the King’s role. This does Thailand no good at all. It will inevitably colour judgment on the King’s record. It is the greatest disrespect to an institution that has upheld Thais’ freedom for two generations.