Ever since the death of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyalej, the world has observed with some respectful appreciation the sometimes emotional and sometimes dignified grief of the whole nation of Thailand over the passing of probably the only monarch most of them had ever known. As the official one-year period of national mourning kicks off, there have been sightings of an undercurrent of darkness and violence to the people’s sorrow, as Thais still reeling from the death of the king have become increasingly reactionary to any slight, obvious or perceived being thrown against his memory or at the still living members of the royal family.
Channel News Asia reports that there has been a rise in incidents in which grieving Thais are cracking down on their fellows who have been suspected of defaming the late king or his family. These ties to their national laws regarding lese majeste, or “injured majesty” which imposes very harsh penalties on perpetrators found to have leveled accusations, insults or threats to the person of the king, queen, royal heir or regent. Each proven count of lese majeste could land a guilty party anywhere between 3 to 15 years behind bars. Some Thais who have done this multiple times have been imprisoned for up to 60 years.
While this law has been part of the Thai criminal code since 1908, the definition, scope and extent of lese majeste in the country has been nebulous at times. One definite is that anyone in Thailand, from the public to non-royal government officials, can file complaints of it against anyone else.
Thai police are bound by the law to investigate such cases as soon as they come up, for if they delay, then they would themselves be guilty of lese majeste. Once they’ve caught suspects accused by that charge, they can’t even tell the media or anyone about what the defendants have said or done, because then the lese majeste would apply to them too.
Most officials from the justice minister to the prime minister, would all state that the severity of the criminal charge is a vital requirement to safeguarding the Thai monarchy. Still, one can’t help but wonder about the righteousness, if not legality, of such incidents as a man who simply liked a Facebook post critical of the king, who was arrested and confessed, then forced to his knees before a crowd who then kicked and punched him.
Then there’s the story of a female tour guide on Phuket who, simply on another’s word that she committed lese majeste, was forced to kneel before a picture of King Bhumbibol and forced to hold the pose while bystanders took pictures. Ultranationalist Thai groups have even called for covert forces and volunteers who would grab anyone defaming the Thai monarchy from other countries, bringing them back to Thailand for punishment.
It’s interesting to note that the late Bhumibol didn’t like such extreme measures being taken in his name. In 2005 he said, "If the King can do no wrong, it is akin to looking down upon him, because the King is not being treated as a human being." If only his country got the message.
Photo Credit to https://www.thesun.co.uk