Nothing about the enforcement of Thailand’s lese majeste law tends to surprise me these days.
For Thai authorities it is considered such an effective instrument for curtailing social and political discussions that it is now arguably their key weapon in the rolling battle to maintain control. They are faced, of course, with persistent calls for reform. And all at a time when the monarchy, the military, the judiciary and a range of other Thai institutions clearly feel under siege.
To their collective detriment there is still apparently little awareness among the leaders of these institutions that heavy-handed use of lese majeste only serves to further erode their credibility.
What we now see is a self-reinforcing cycle of crackdowns and comebacks.
The arrest (details here) of Akechai Hongkangwarn (р╣Ар╕нр╕Бр╕Кр╕▒р╕в р╕лр╕Зр╕кр╣Мр╕Бр╕▒р╕Зр╕зр╕▓р╕Щ) for allegedly selling CDs of Eric Campbell’s Australian Broadcasting Corporation documentary is a further indication of how far the Thai authorities are prepared to go.
When Campbell’s report was first broadcast in Australia this New Mandala post caught the mood. A day later, Andrew Walker and I provided our more detailed reflections on the documentary and its implications. As we wrote at that time, “[i]nside Thailand, people may never get an opportunity to appreciate the coherence and compassion of Campbell’s report. That is, in itself, a tremendous pity”.
Akechai Hongkangwarn is one man now confronted with the tremendous might of a legal apparatus designed to enforce his silence. He was allegedly attempting to distribute a report that deals coherently and compassionately with issues that will prove crucial for his society’s future. In a democratic society this should not be illegal.
Last week I asked: “Does somebody out there really think [these lese majeste prosecutions] will prove the best way to ‘protect’ Thailand’s monarchy?”
Today the question is more difficult: Are King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family now considered by Thai authorities to be so weak that a lowly CD distributor merits a lese majeste prosecution?