Lèse-majesté laws used to silence dissidents


As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, unwarranted restrictions on freedom of expression have been used to silence dissidents in Thailand. In a recent example, Sulak Sivaraksa, an outspoken critic of Thai authorities, was indicted on the 10th October 2017. Sivaraksa is the leader of Sathirakoses-Nagapradeepa Foundation, a faith-based organisation promoting human rights and democracy at all levels of Thai society. 

In a case spanning over three years, Sivaraksa has been under investigation after questioning a royal personage in 16th-century folklore, a violation which falls under Thailand's lèse-majesté laws, during a research seminar on 10th October 2014. As a prominent leader in civil society who has been outspoken in his opposition against Thailand's lèse-majesté laws, 85 year-old Sivaraksa has been charged under the restrictive provisions five times since 1985. In a recent statement, he commented on his long-running and repeated harassment by saying: 

“The Thai army regards Naresuan as a national hero...By questioning history, they think I’m attacking their great hero. Now they are going after me”.

Considering the crime of lèse-majesté forbids criticism of the king, queen, crown prince or regent and carries a maximum penalty of fifteen-years imprisonment, if convicted Sivaraksa could face a lengthy sentence behind bars. Thai military prosecutors will decide by 7th December 2017 whether to proceed with charges. Ahead of this date, the International Network of Engaged Buddhists initiated a petition urging the authorities to drop the case hoping to instigate a groundswell of solidarity to support the embattled activist. Sivaraksa's arrest comes at a time, when in late September UN officials in Geneva criticised Thailand's human rights record by highlighting the worrying number of human rights defenders who have been targeted by Thai authorities for simply carrying out their work.