New Mandala has yet to pay sufficient attention to the lavish, multi-author King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work (Editions Didier Millet, 2011). There will, I’m sure, be much discussion of its almost 400-pages in the months ahead.
The hefty tome was sent by the publisher late last year but I have only now started to flick through it. It is, on first impressions, a huge and diverse piece of work. It clearly took a phenomenal amount of planning and energy to bring it to completion. I have just enjoyed a lazy hour flicking the pages and hope to give it fuller consideration one day soon.
The list of contributors includes distinguished researchers such as Chris Baker, David Streckfuss and Porphant Ouyyanont. As regular New Mandala readers know, these are some of the most credible and valued voices in the Thai Studies scene.
Today I figure it worth opening up the publication of this new and important book to wider discussion on New Mandala.
To that end, I will introduce just one of the many fragments that caught my eye. In the 11-page section on Thailand’s lese majeste law the authors assert (pp. 308-309):
There is no question that a significantly increased number of premeditated attacks have been made against the king, members of the royal family and the royal institution on the Internet and in public speeches — much of which are grounds for seeking legal redress.
Now I don’t want to be overly pedantic but surely there are many questions, almost all of which are untested in open courts, about exactly these points! It also strikes me that this is a very neat summary of a common justification for prosecuting lese majeste cases to the bitter end; especially, to re-deploy Andrew Walker’s phrase, against the current crops of “very small fish caught in the cross-fire”. In a book that has sought to offer a balanced account of the king’s reign it is peculiar that there is no evidence for these key points — there is no footnote to justify the unquestionable.
And whether or not “premeditated attacks” have increased it seems pretty clear that premeditated abuses of the lese majeste law have gone through the roof. As we learn on p. 306 “[a]n all-time high of 165 charges of lèse-majesté were sent to the Court of First Instance in 2009”.
Surely that’s the real story. And it’s a tragic one. The surge in lese majeste action in November and December 2011 is merely further evidence for the legal madness that has taken hold at the end of King Bhumibol’s reign.
The best I can currently do for readers looking for more context is to point you towards the two reviews I have found thus far. One was published in The Sydney Morning Herald and the other in the Bangkok Post. Political Prisoners in Thailand has, of course, already launched a volley or two with characteristic intensity.
There will, no doubt, be more discussion and reviews to come.